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James R. Stout


Ships Passing In The Night

            We meet people briefly and anonymously every day. Well, we did before this Covid-19 took us by storm. But, even during this time of uncertainty we meet people in passing. Perhaps it’s somebody working in a grocery store or gas station. We mostly give these people little, if any, thought. They do pretty much the same thing to us. We’re just ships passing in the night and that’s all. This anonymity renders our brief impression of someone a bare impression at that. We don’t give much thought as to who the other person is. That lady checking your groceries out may be a talented piano player who also teaches piano part-time to supplement her income. That man at the convenience store gas pump next to us may have been awarded a silver star for valor in the war in the Middle East. The truth is we don’t spend time getting to know anything about the people that we briefly meet. That’s not a crime and it’s pretty much a necessity given there simply isn’t enough time in our lives to get to know everyone that we meet on a personal level. What we can do is to not be so shallow that we don’t see the person as a person with hopes, dreams, talents, and a uniqueness that is theirs and theirs alone.

            I’ve spoken a great deal in past entries about my father. I’ve mentioned that he was a true craftsman. He was considered the “go to” piano tuner and repair person in the Houston area for many years. But even if someone met him in that capacity, they would have only known a very small part of who Jack Stout was. They wouldn’t have known about his time in the United States Marine Corps during World War Two. They wouldn’t have known about his physical abilities prior to the car accident that left him crippled for life. They might have simply noticed that he had a pronounced limp when he walked. They wouldn’t have known his musical abilities beyond piano tuning and repair such as teaching himself how to play the guitar, harmonica, and piano as well as being a first-rate trumpet player. They wouldn’t have known what a loving and good father and husband he was.

            All of this said, when I was a small child, I just knew him as Dad. The first time that I got a glimpse of one of his “hidden talents” was when I was about 6-years-old. Dad loved to read and especially loved to read science-fiction novels. He read every night before falling asleep. Later in life, after he finally retired at the age of 85, he could be seen reading a great deal. One of the things that he counted on me doing for him was to order books online for him that he wanted to read. Computers were not one of his talents, but I believe that was primarily due to his not being of the computer era. Had computers been part of his era the way that they are now, then he would have likely been quite proficient on them.

            There came a week in my 6th year when my father got a week of vacation. That’s all the vacation that he got in those days. We didn’t have enough money to go on a trip or do much in the way of activities, but Dad was content with some extra time to get some things around the house accomplished and to also have extra time to read. One day during this vacation I noticed the cover of a paperback that Dad was reading while sitting in his recliner. The picture intrigued me, and I just stood there at the foot of his raised recliner staring at the picture. I suppose it must have unnerved Dad to have me just standing there staring at him. So, he asked me what I was doing. I told him I really liked the picture on his book. He looked at it briefly and suggested I go play and let him read. I can’t say as I blame him. I was an inquisitive child. What I then did was go into my room, get a pencil and some paper, and I drew my version of a rocket ship. Inspiration was provided by the illustrator for Robert A. Heinlein’s paperback. When I had finished with my masterpiece, I took it and showed my father. I’m just glad that my masterpiece didn’t survive because it would yet be an embarrassment to me. As talented as I may be in some things, drawing isn’t one of them. But I truly love art and I am mesmerized by the talent that some people have for drawing and painting. To Dad’s credit he didn’t laugh at my pathetic attempt to draw a rocket ship. What he did do was give me that first glimpse of a talent that I didn’t know that he had. He told me to get some paper and a pencil and bring it to him. I did as he asked and then watched as Dad drew an incredibly detailed picture of that rocket ship and the surrounding scenery. Dad wasn’t just Dad anymore. He was more than that.

            As the years passed, I learned about this talent of his. When he had been in the VA Hospital after his car accident, he was in a body cast for 9 months! Imagine being confined like that. He had been an athlete since his childhood and was quite good at gymnastics, tennis, and especially basketball. Now he was confined to bed and a body cast with the knowledge that he would never again be the athlete that he had been. But you can’t keep a good man down. One day while laying in that bed in a hospital ward a volunteer came around and offered Dad some art supplies thinking that he might enjoy drawing. She gave him some drawing pads, pastels, charcoal pencils, and encouragement. Dad soon had the entire ward talking about his drawings. He drew pictures of some of the other patients, of a favorite dog of one of the patients via a photo, of a couple of nurses, and other subjects. He had kept one of the drawing books that included some of these drawings. He later told me that he gave away most of the pictures that he drew to the subjects of the pictures. I still have that book of drawings and they amaze me still. He got so much attention that a man from The Houston Post came by to meet Dad and look at his drawings. He offered my father a job as an assistant illustrator with the paper with the understanding that Dad would need to complete some art courses at the University of Houston. As much as Dad might have wanted to do that, he felt that his first responsibility was to get back to a point that he could again work and provide for his family. He thanked the man but explained that he just couldn’t take a cut in pay given his salary was already barely enough.

            Well, Dad finally got out of the hospital and it would be 5 years before he could walk without a crutch or brace on his leg. Life sometimes gets in the way of life. He didn’t do much drawing for the next 50 years. He was too busy working, providing for his family, and running his own business. But then he retired and that talent for drawing made a comeback. Despite Dad not being as steady with his hands due to age as he had been, he spent a great deal of his time in his shop/studio drawing. The talent was still there. A year or so after Dad passed away at the age of 93, I took some photos of Dad’s drawings from the 1950’s and then from the 2010’s. I showed them to some friends and they were amazed that Dad had never had any kind of lessons. It was truly a God-given talent.

            One of the people I showed those photos to was a lady that had been a person who Dad didn’t really get to know nor vice-versa. She was the lady who worked at the small café where Dad would call in an order for lunch for Mom and Dad on Fridays. She had no idea that he was so talented. I’m pretty sure that most, if not all, of those who read this blog entry know someone that they are unaware of the talents that they possess. When all of this Covid-19 is over and we get back to some kind of normalcy, then I challenge you to get to know someone a little better. No, you probably won’t become best of friends, but it can’t hurt to spend a little time talking with someone and sharing a tiny part of your lives with each other. Maybe one of the things we get out of this virus thing is an appreciation of each other. I’ve attached several photos of Dad’s hand drawings below. I hope you enjoy them a tenth as much as I do.

 

Picture of the cover of Robert A. Heinlein novel that Dad was reading when I was 6 and became interested in.

Dad's charcoal drawing of a dog. Drawn someone time in 1956-1958.

Pastel drawing by Dad of nurse on hospital ward.

Charcoal drawing by Dad of volunteer who gave Dad some art supplies while he was in the hospital.

Pencil drawing by Dad of another patient on the same hospital ward as Dad.

Drawing of a birdhouse and birds by Dad in 2014 at the age of 91.

The Old Wooden Bridge

            There’s a wooden bridge not far from my house. The bridge as it stands now was built about 20 years ago. But there has been a wooden bridge over that creek for as long as I can remember and long before that. My grandfather owned the land that the county road is on and in the 1920’s he gave a strip of his land to the county to build a road. It was a good deal for both parties. I suspect that there wasn’t a bridge on that road until the county built one in the 1920’s. Grandpa wouldn’t have been able to build one. I do know that 100 years ago that creek wasn’t nearly as big or deep as it is now. Grandpa most likely forded the creek in two or three spots in order to get from one part of his farm to another. I do know that there was what they called “a lane” along the general path of what would be the road going back to the late 1890’s. It was a simple wagon track.

            Grandpa’s property started at a “Y” in the road and ended at another “Y”. The south part of the lane was known as the “John Russell Flats” and was named for the landowner where the lane joined up with Grandpa’s land. John Russell was related to us on my Grandmother’s side, but to what degree I’m not sure. I know that her mother was a Russell. When we had family reunions when I was growing up it was for the Shaw-Russell side of the family. Those reunions started in about 1935 and were held every year until 1967, the year my grandfather died. They continued in 1968 and lasted through 1972, but due to the generation that had started them becoming too old to organize the reunions or too many of that generation dying, the reunions ceased in 1972. To be honest, they were never the same to me after Grandpa died. We had fun at the ones in 1968, 1969, and 1970, but due to another death near the time of the reunion in 1971 that year was canceled. The last gasp was in 1972. Yet another couple of deaths in 1973 just put an end to them. I digressed there.

            The wooden bridge before the current bridge had been around for at least 50 years. It was the bridge that we crossed so many times to get to and from my grandparent’s farm. I have some very fond memories of that bridge. When we visited the folks, how many ever of us kids that were there would always walk to the bridge together. It was about 3/10’s of mile from the farmhouse. The best times were when it would be me, my sisters, and my two cousins, David and Phil. We would have a great time just being together out in the country. When we got to the bridge, we would toss small rocks into the creek and there were times you could fish off that bridge, but I never fished. Not my bag. Generally, we would get to the bridge and one of us would say, “Let’s keep walking up to the top of the hill.” The hill was where my grandfather had a gate entrance into the pastures. We’d get to the top of the hill and someone would say, “Let’s walk on down to the “Y”. That would put us about ¾ of mile from the farmhouse. If it was a hot day, then we would get to hoping Grandpa would come along in his truck and we could hitch a ride on the tailgate back home. There was a love among us that none of realized at the time. I look back on those days now and think of how much fun we had together. Sadly, if the four survivors were together today at the farmhouse, I doubt that we’d make it to that bridge as a unit. I know that my sister couldn’t make it. David and I would, but we’d both be hobbling more than anything. Philip probably can still get around pretty good. He lives in Alaska and that means he’s a bit heartier than us!

            Sometimes those days seem like just a week ago and sometimes they seem a lifetime ago. The great part for me is that I drive that road several times a week. Given it’s a dirt road and not exactly maintained as well as it should be, I have to drive slowly. But in a way, that’s ok. I drive that road and it’s like those days when we walked it. It’s not quite as shady as it once was due to there was a pine beetle problem about 30 years ago that killed off a number of trees. But it’s still pretty shady in places and when I go across that creek a flood of memories comes rushing through. Pun intended. My mother used to talk about how they all walked on that road and across that bridge when she was a little girl. Well, when my kids were still at home, I used to bring them and stay at the farmhouse for a weekend or a week of vacation. We would all walk down to that bridge together and it was déjà vu all over again. I even have pictures that I took of my daughter walking with me on that road to that bridge when she was expecting her first child. I’ve certainly driven that road with my granddaughters over the past few years, but it hasn’t occurred to me to walk it with them like we did. Not until now. Next time they are up here I think I’ll have to do that. I may have to use my cane, but so be it. It will be 5 generations in our family to have done that. All this about a simple wooden bridge and an old dirt road! But isn’t it true that the simple things, the things that are free gifts from God, are the best part of life?

 

This is how the road once looked.

This is the actual road with the farmhouse visible through the trees.

Everything In Its Own Time

            There was once a place in Southwest Houston that was a great place to go for shopping and for going out on a date. It was called Westbury Square. The first time that I went there was with a couple of friends and my girlfriend. It was in October of 1975. We went to a eat at The Village Square Pizza Parlor and listened to live music. I have no recollection of who the band was, but I recall liking them. They performed then current Top 40 tunes. We walked around the square but didn’t actually do any shopping that night. The place was a fair distance from where we all lived, so we didn’t go back for many months.

            At the time, I was preparing to do a “single” (solo performance) in clubs and restaurants. I worked part-time at a K-mart in the photo department and spent several hours a day working up a repertoire that would allow me to play five 45-minute sets. I planned on using two different guitars and sing. I would use my Takamine 12-string and my Alverez bi-centennial model 6-string acoustics. They were both great guitars and fully suited to the music that I planned on performing. I worked up many singer-songwriter songs from the late 60’s and early 70’s as well as I kept current with songs that were in the same vein. Some of the current songs at that time that I could appropriately perform with just an acoustic guitar and vocal included “Rhinestone Cowboy”, “Annie’s Song”, “Lyin’ Eyes”, “Sister Golden Hair”, and the hit cover by The Carpenters of “There’s A Kind of Hush”. I also included in my sets several songs that I had written. These included “Your Heart Will Bleed”, “Loneliness”, “The Ax-Wax Museum”, “It’s Been So Long”, “Love In Me”, “Cry Me A Rainbow”, and “I Looked Into Your Eyes”. I’ll come back to that last one in a minute.

            I had a Peavey PA system with two columns that each had 4 10” speakers and a 130-watt mixer. It was plenty of volume and would accommodate plenty of microphone inputs. By the middle of January of 1976, I was ready to take on the world. The only drawback to doing a single at the time was an annoying thing called “Disco” that was becoming very popular. I say it was annoying because it did not lend itself to a just a guy and his guitar. The “beat” or drums were very much in the forefront of that genre as well as synthesizers and a prominent bass. It was also a multi-voice genre with lots of harmony. However, there were still a lot of people who wanted to hear the kind of music that I was playing. I quit my job at K-mart at the end of January and started to actively seek some clubs or restaurants to obtain bookings. It took me about 6 weeks to get my first booking. I signed a contract with a nice restaurant and club called “The Bull and Anchor”. You’ll never guess what kind of food they served! Oh, and guess where it was located? Yes, good ole Westbury Square. I had a guaranteed contract for 7 weeks starting the second week of April. I bought some new shirts and pants to go with what I considered my “Saturday Night” suit. It was a dismal gray leisure suit. Yuck! I would be playing five nights a week, Tuesday through Saturday. The club part of the establishment was where they seated people while they waited for a table on the restaurant side as well as it was a full-blown bar for people who just wanted to hear live music and buy a few drinks.

            I guess I should have mentioned it before, but at the time I was the ripe old age of 20. I look back on it now and it took a lot of guts and some talent to do what I did. While I was actively seeking a booking agent, I got this job on my own and while I played there, I started to have a regular clientele or following. Although I had performed in clubs going back to when I was 18, I had been in a duet back then. Having all the responsibility on my shoulders was a different animal altogether. And, those 7 weeks were eye-opening. I learned that all kinds of people went to clubs. Some of them were extremely nice and some of them were extremely rude. The rude ones generally had partaken too much in the way of libations. There was always some smart-a** who would ask me to play Kiss or Led Zeppelin knowing full-well it just couldn’t be done with a single acoustic guitar and vocal. However, I did start working up songs by many of those artists that I could do just to shut up the loudmouths. I worked up “Angie” by The Rolling Stones, “Over The Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin,” and “Behind Blue Eyes” by The Who among others. I quickly learned that there were certain songs that were well-liked by people who otherwise liked a different genre. “Annie’s Song” was one of these. It turned out that the chef was engaged to be married and that song was his and his fiancé’s favorite song. He asked me to sing it at their wedding and so I did. My girlfriend at the time was only 17 and couldn’t legally go into the club, but I had her in a couple of nights and it helped to have someone there that I knew in the audience. On one of those nights when it came time to take a 15-minute break, we walked around the square and did some window shopping. There were actually some very nice little shops there. The first Hallmark store that I ever went to was there.

            It turned out that I missed out on a very cool concert during that time. I had purchased tickets to go see Paul McCartney and Wings. The concert was going to be on a Sunday night and that meant that I could go. But there was a postponement of the start of that tour and when it was changed the concert was on a Tuesday night. So, I sold my tickets to a friend. To rub salt in that wound I ended up being caught in a traffic jam on my way home due to all the traffic from that concert. Boo.

            The last week that I was there the manager came to me and told me that they were going to no longer have live entertainment. They were going to install a dance floor and have a DJ playing disco. More annoyance. On the last night that I played I decided to let my true colors come out. You see, even though I played where they served alcohol, I didn’t drink. I was true to my girlfriend despite several young ladies trying to pick me up. I would marry that girlfriend in September of 1976. I decided to make my last song there “I Looked Into Your Eyes”. I had written it with a little bit of deception. The lyrics go, “I looked into your eyes and found such peace. I looked into your face and quiet serenity. I never knew of such a perfect love. As that love you have for me. I gotta say thanks for your love.” All the way up until the very last line of the song a listener would believe that I was singing about a girl. But the last line of the song goes, “I never knew of such a perfect love. As that love you have for me. Thank you, Jesus, for your love.” I still believe that song is one of my finest. However, I have not made a truly decent recording of it. That night I sang that song and as I was putting my guitar down to finish my run there, a middle-aged man sitting in the back of the club spoke up.

            “What was that last line you sang?” he asked

            So, I told him. He looked at me and then said, “That’s beautiful, young man.”

            Well, it made me feel really good to hear that. That night was the last night that I would play in a club for another 4 years. Getting married and all that goes with that, including supporting a wife, kept me working outside of music performance. Like I said earlier, I learned a lot in those seven weeks. I gained confidence and perspective too. I also learned that when six loud young people are all drinking from a huge with 6 straws, they are probably drinking what was then called “A Zombie”. It inspired me to write a song called “Zombie Music”. I learned that you needed to unplug the tabletop pong game while performing because you just couldn’t compete with it at the time.

            When I think of Westbury Square I remember all of these things. Several years ago, I happened to be on business in that area and thought I’d go check out the square for old times sake. It was very sad. Most of it was torn down and replaced by a Home Depot. What little was left was condemned by the city and would have been dangerous to trespass. What had once been a quaint place to go was no more. In fact, the neighborhood areas around it had fallen on hard times as well. Time takes its toll. I mean, I’m not exactly what I was back then either. I wish I was in that condition. Everything in its own time. Its own time.

Is That All There Is?

            For my 8th birthday my parents took our family to the circus. We lived in Bryan, Texas at the time and a circus like Ringling Brothers didn’t bother with small towns like ours. But there was plenty of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to a circus that it would be profitable for a smaller circus. For weeks prior to the circus coming to town there were advertisements on TV, radio, and in the newspapers. In other words, there was a lot of hype. The circus that was coming to town was the Clyde Beatty Circus. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was in its last few years of existence. Clyde Beatty had been quite famous as a lion tamer and had actually appeared in several movies in the 30’s and 40’s and even appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1957. But times were getting tough for his circus by the time 1963 rolled around. In fact, he would pass away in 1965.

            The posters that were plastered all of town made going to the circus seem so exiting. Posters with elephants, lions, high-wire acts, and all the usual parts of a circus made my almost 8-year-old mind filled with excitement. Finally, the day came and on a Friday night we all piled into the car and went to the circus. We got to the location and there was the big tent. Multi-colored flags blew in the wind and a sense of excitement filled the air. The first person that we saw as we went into the tent was a clown. I was never much of a clown lover, but he was friendly and handed out programs. The first thing that I noticed was the smell. It was a cacophony of smells. There was sawdust, manure, popcorn, cotton candy, and all the smells that you would associate with a circus. Of course, the sounds of the circus were there too. Animals making their noises, whips snapping, backfiring little cars that the clowns rode around in, crowd speak, and musical instruments playing loudly all mixed together with the smells and the sights. Did I say sights? Flashy and gaudy costumes on both performers and animals gave the impression that they had all been painting and had gotten more paint on themselves than anything else.

            Then there was the opening fanfare and a parade around the three rings. The first thing that we saw were several elephants walking with their trunks attached to the next elephant’s tail. There were costumed performers riding on the elephants and waving at the crowd. Frankly, what I couldn’t help but notice was the prodigious amount of elephant excrement left behind. I’d been around my grandfather’s cattle and as much as they produced, the elephants greatly surpassed the bovine production. I have some other vague memories of the night such as the high-wire act, the dancing horses, and the antics of the clowns. But hands down the one thing that I remember the most was the human cannonball. First, that boom was deafening. Second, the helmeted human cannonball flew the length of the three rings and landed in a giant net.

            I’d love to tell you that it was a magical night in my young life, but it really wasn’t. There was a song that was a big hit about 6 years later that the singer talks about going to the circus as a child and when it was over, she simply thought, “Is That All There Is?” That’s how I felt. Over the years when I have thought about that night and the trip to the circus, I have compared it to life in general. There are people that we meet that are clowns. They may not be official clowns, but they have clown like attributes. Some of them don’t wear the make-up (but some do) and costumes, but they are in general superficial people. You just don’t ever know what a clown is really thinking. There are some incredibly talented people in our lives, and these are the high-wire performers. You look at what they do and realize that it takes a special kind of person and talent to do it. You know that you could never do what they do. When I hear a lot of politicians speak, I think of the human cannonball. A whole lot of noise, a big flash, and there always seems to be a net to catch them.

            I don’t want to give the impression that I hated going to the circus. It’s just that it simply didn’t live up to all the hype. It occurs to me that there are a lot of things in life that seem bigger than life and so exciting. It’s human nature to imagine these things greater than they could ever be. I have found that the most exciting events in life usually come out of the blue and are totally unexpected. Maybe that’s the key. If we build up something in our minds, then we’re setting it up so that it can’t possibly compare to our imagination. And it’s about that time that we sing, “Is That All There Is?”

It's Going To Be Ok

            All I can say is “wow”. Well, that really isn’t all I can say. But you knew that. I’m half a year away from being 65-years-old. I’ve lived through quite a bit in my life. Some really great times and some really not-so-great times. When I was 18 the Arab oil embargo hit America. I sat in one long line to get gas, but the only thing that really happened was the price of gas doubled. In 1979 we experienced a gas shortage that lasted about two or three weeks. I sat in some long gas lines that time, but nothing terrible. The price of gas was still below $1 a gallon. Later that same year we all sat in front of our TV’s and watched the Iranian hostage drama unfold. We all briefly worried about a war, but for most of those 440 days that our fellow Americans were held hostage, the majority of us here at home simply went about our normal lives.

            The early to mid-80’s saw us concerned about a new virus that was mainly affecting homosexuals at the time. But we worried about the blood supply being tainted and for some that became all too real. But for most of us we just went about our normal lives. In 1987, there was a stock market crash. I knew a few people affected by it, but for most of the people that I knew it didn’t mean much. None of us had money in the market to begin with. Life continued onward. For a couple of years prior to the millennium we were told that at the stroke of midnight on 1-1-2000 the world might end. The Y2K scare had us backing up our computers and some people went out and bought batteries and bottled water. But the new millennium came and went, and nothing happened.

            Then there was 9-11. That was indeed a scary day and a few weeks that followed. It would eventually usher in a war that most of us weren’t affected by. It did usher in some new laws that have affected our lives, but those are mostly inconveniences such as going through the airport checks. I don’t fly though, so it doesn’t affect me at all. I haven’t been on a plane since 2005 and those changes weren’t in affect yet.

            In 2008 we had another stock market event. But it didn’t really touch everyone’s lives in a great way or for very long. We’ve been through so many scares, many of them manufactured by unseen entities. Going back to my childhood we had Vietnam. It was a horrible war and too many of our young men lost their lives or were forever affected by it. But the truth is that most of us at home weren’t affected on a daily basis by that war. Families still went on vacations, bought new homes, bought new cars, had plenty to eat, and we actually had one great by-product. Some great music. Yes, me and my fellow classmates in elementary school had drills at school that were supposed to save us if the Russians dropped some A-bombs on us. But it was mostly a welcome interruption in class, and I don’t recall anyone getting upset over it.

            When I was 8-years-old JFK was assassinated. We all worried for a couple of months that it would lead to something worse. But all it took was 4 young men from Liverpool, England to sing those worries out of our heads. Through all of those years and all of those events my life was pretty much like anyone else’s life. I grew up and dated girls, owned a car, got married, had two kids, went to college, and eventually spent 25 years working in a job that was unfulfilling, but paid the rent and a few extras. As I grew older my body did like anyone’s body does that grows older. Things stopped working or hurt or caused me to have to change some of my ways of living.

            So, here we are in March of 2020 and for the first time in my life I’m seeing something and experiencing something that none of those other things came close to. The Coronavirus pandemic has truly interrupted everyone’s lives. Some people seem to have lost any good sense that they might have once had. How bad are their bowels to need all that toilet paper? But seriously, there are some unprecedented things going on now. Public gatherings canceled. Not only sporting events, schools, businesses, and restaurants have been canceled or postponed, but our places of worship are also closing in some cases. While they will have services online if they are set-up for that, the fact is worshipping God together is currently not a corporate worship. Meanwhile, we’re all worrying about getting the virus. If I turn on the news all I see is doom and gloom over the virus. Perhaps the most disturbing reports pertinent to me personally is when they tell us that people over 60 or with chronic illnesses are hit the hardest. Well, I have diabetes. It’s under control now, but if I got that virus what would happen? And we don’t have a clue how bad this is going to get.

            Well, I for one have decided to put it in God’s hands. I’m just not going to let it make me sick simply by its existence. I’ll take precautions that I should, and I’ll be careful, but in the end, I trust God to see me through. If I somehow or other catch this thing, then I trust God to see me through. And if I should die from it? Then I’ll be in the presence of God where I will never again get sick, or know sorrow, or know despair, or know worry, or have pain. Are you secure in this as well? I truly hope so. If you aren’t, but want to, then feel free to message me and I’ll be more than happy to tell you how. I’m not going to tell you to “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” because that would be disingenuous. But there is a way to be happy despite this dilemma we currently face. Trust me on this.

 

 

Evil

            There are times in our lives when things happen that we simply cannot understand. In fact, I don’t believe that certain things can be understood. We expect to experience the ups and downs of life including some devasting lows and incredible highs. But there are things that come along that are completely unexpected, and our world is shaken to its core. I’ve experienced some traumatic things in my life. I never knew my father before he was crippled in a car accident when I was 4 months old. I always knew him the way he was after that accident. My earliest memories of him are from when he was still having to wear a metal and leather brace on his right leg. He eventually had surgery that made it possible to walk, with a pronounced limp, without wearing a brace or using crutches. I lost my close childhood friend to drowning when I was 9-years-old. Just 30 months ago my son-in-law took his own life. While all of these things were extremely hard to get through and to come to some kind of understanding of, they were not evil. Perhaps my son-in-law taking his life came close to being evil, but at least he didn’t harm anyone else.

            Anyone who believes that evil doesn’t exist is a fool. Most of us experience what I call “Evil Light”. A boss being petty and doing things intentionally to cause you unhappiness. A person cutting you off in traffic and giving you the one-finger salute. Perhaps someone stealing your car or other possession. These things are troubling and can cause some pain, but they are overcome with a little time. Some people experience evil in a more destructive way such as a home invasion, being mugged, being beat-up because of the color of your skin, or any number of felony crimes in our society. Then there are the people who do things that are so evil and destructive that there simply isn’t any understanding the act.

            I try to write my blog entries with a positive point of view. I try to incorporate humor and to I try to be genteel in my blog. But today I can’t do that. I’ll get back on track in a day or two, but for right now I just can’t. Why? Because something horribly evil has happened to my long-time friend’s family. There is no other word for it than evil. I have known Lonny for nearly 48 years. We have been close throughout those years and there is a bond that simply cannot be broken. On Monday afternoon my phone rang, and I could see that it was Lonny calling. It’s always nice to hear from him. But this time was different. On the other end of the line my dear friend was crying. He was obviously distraught. He told me that he was on the way from his home to the scene of an unspeakable evil. His ex-son-in-law had shot and killed two of Lonny’s beautiful grandchildren and taken the life of a woman and himself. Two boys, ages 9 and 12, whose lives were snuffed out by an evil act that cannot be understood. I don’t know how Lonny’s family, especially his daughter, the mother of the boys, are going to get through this. The truth is they will never “get over” it. They will learn to live with the aftermath and there will always be a sadness in their lives.

            I cannot tell you how profound this loss has affected me. Lonny is as much a brother to me as any blood related brother would ever be. We have had great times together and been there for each other during the low spots. But to see the pain this evil act has caused Lonny and his family is heartbreaking. Yes, my heart is broken for them. I have prayed for them and will continue to do so. I will give what support that I am able to in the coming months. When I think of the last picture that I saw of Lonny and the boys, the smiles and love for each other so very evident, I am filled with sadness that Lonny will never again spend time with them. I’m sad that they will not enjoy the wonderful lives that they should be living. I think of the missed first dates, successes in sports, growing into young men, falling in love and getting married, and having children of their own.

            I can’t give you or Lonny a satisfactory answer for why this has happened other than to say that evil exists and for the time being is allowed to exist. As a Christian, I do believe there will be justice for these two beautiful boys. I believe that they are now in the arms of Christ and will never again experience evil for eternity. While it’s no consolation to the family, the fact is this evil person is in eternal torment or what we call hell. At least he will never cause harm to anyone else ever again.

            I ask you, my dear friends and readers, to please pray for Lonny, his daughter, and the rest of the family. Pray for comfort and pray for peace. I send out my deepest and most profound love to Lonny and his family at this time.

The Falcon Soars No More

            In the summer of 1977, I got a 1962 Ford Falcon that had seen its better days, but still ran and would suffice as transportation to and work. At the time, I thought back to when my aunt and uncle bought a new 1962 Falcon. I had clear memories of what one of those cars was like brand new. No, it didn’t have a tenth of the amenities that we have come to expect in cars today, but it was a solid car, comfortable, and reliable. As for my Falcon, it didn’t have those qualities by the time that I got it. Still, I was glad to get it at the time.

            When I got that car, I had to take stock in what needed repairing in order for the car to pass inspection. Mainly, it needed new brakes and a new taillight. Let me tell you what that car was like when I got it. It was white on the outside and red on the inside. The heater didn’t work, and the engine was woefully under-powered. But I only used it to go to work. At some time in the car’s past it had been in a significant accident. I knew this because the frame was bent. It literally went down the road at a slight angle. The rear-end was a few inches to the right of the front-end. It had also been dented on the driver’s side rear door. While it was a dent that would have required a new door, it would open and close and lock which meant it was going to stay the way it was.

            I had that car for about 18 months. During that time, I replaced some parts myself. It simply wouldn’t run without those parts being replaced. I replaced the solenoid, generator, radiator, and a couple of belts and hoses. The right windshield motor went out during a downpour one day and I had to replace that as well. As for the “amenities” on the inside, there weren’t any. It was made in a time before safety was considered. The dash was metal. No padding at all. The A/M radio was prone to turn off and on when hitting a pothole. And you just haven’t heard the “Star Wars Theme” until you’ve heard it on that 3-inch speaker in the dash. The windows were the crank variety and one of them was missing the knob. Therefore, when I was driving with the windows down and it started to rain, I had to do an impression of a contortionist getting that window up before the interior got soaked. The paint was faded and there was rust in places, but not too bad.

            I ended-up selling that car for $400 and then buying a 1966 Oldsmobile 88 for $500. The Oldsmobile was in great shape. It only had about 45,000 miles on it and everything worked including the A/C. Strangely enough, when I sold that Falcon it was bittersweet. Despite it having caused me some headaches, it had also been like a trusty old steed that you finally had to put out to pasture. I used to envision what that car was like brand new and this was aided by having seen my aunt and uncle’s Falcon when it was brand new. I could imagine it sitting in a showroom with the chrome bumpers and trim glistening, the paint sparkling in the overhead lights, and the interior filled with that new car smell. I imagined opening the hood and the engine being clean and all the parts were where they should be. But time and friction will wear cars out. And, as it happens, time and friction wears people out too.

            I remember very vividly being young. Especially from about 8-years-old to 18-years-old. Those were the days when I seemed to be able to do anything. I ran everywhere. I don’t run anywhere anymore. I had perfect vision. I’m blind without my glasses and I already have the beginnings of cataracts. I could plop down on the floor and sit in Indian style and then raise up without the use of my hands. If I plop down on the floor now, then I need help getting back up. I was thin as a rail, but strong. Today my strength isn’t what it once was. In fact, a cane goes with me everywhere nowadays. I used to jump rope, play chase, do somersaults, and was a master on the implements of a swing set. I didn’t get the way I am overnight though. Just 5 or 6 years ago I was out building fences on my place, clearing brush by hand, and routinely walked 2 or 3 miles a day hiking. I didn’t do these things with near the ease as I once had, but I was still able to do them. I didn’t get my first pair of glasses until I was 40 and they were just for reading. But over the past quarter of a century my vision has deteriorated. I hate to admit it, but so has my hearing. I have no doubt that part of this was caused by listening to music too loud, but it’s also heredity. It simply runs in my family. My mother was deaf by the end of her life. My grandparents had significant hearing loss as did my great-grandparent’s. I still hear fairly well, but I do find myself not quite understanding what someone says from time to time. Other things have gone wrong with my body over the years. Some parts just don’t work like they should, but I’m still here. The fact is time and friction have done what they do best. I know people my age who are in great shape and still do whatever they want to do. But I also know people my age who are in much worse condition than I am. Unfortunately, I have lost many friends and loved ones after their bodies wore out.

            I used to say think that we could be compared to cars. Some of us were born lemons and some were not. Maybe that’s true to some degree. I’ve known people who didn’t smoke or drink or do drugs or abuse their bodies and yet their bodies fell apart. I’ve also known people who smoked, drank, did drugs, and abused their bodies far too much and yet they are in better shape than I am. Go figure. I guess my point here is that we are indeed somewhat like that Ford Falcon. We started out new and in perfect condition. Then time and friction did what they do so well. The ironic part of it is for many of our years we aren’t conscientiously aware of our body’s deterioration. I still did pretty much what I wanted to at 30. But by my 40’s I started to notice things. Whoever said, “life begins at 40” must have meant to say, “A different kind of life begins at 40”.

            Don’t hear me moaning over all of this because I’m not. As the plaque on my wall says, “It is what it is”. Growing old and experiencing the decline in our physical abilities is just part of life. You can do some things to mitigate those changes, but they will get you in the end. I’m reminded of King David talking about when he was young, he went where he wanted to when he wanted to, but when he was old, he needed help going anywhere and had to wait for someone to help him. That’s just the way it is. I am a Christian. I am secure in my belief that I will live forever in a body that doesn’t deteriorate. But this life that we live here and now has its place. We have much to learn simply by living this life. Do I like the way my body is today? No way. But it’s teaching me a lot that I need to know. First and foremost is humility. There’s nothing like getting old that humbles a man. If we are paying attention, then we should be getting wiser with every year. And, it is preparing me for what I know is to come. I watched as my mother steadily declined over the last 25 years of her life. It was hard to watch because there was nothing that I could do about it other than be there for her and help her however I could.

            So maybe I’m not soaring anymore the same as that old Falcon wasn’t soaring by the time that I owned it. Maybe I’m going down the road slower than other traffic and my frame is bent causing me to list to one side. But I still get where I’m going, and I can still do it myself. I’ll just take life a day at a time and do the best that I can do. Someday I’ll be soaring with the angels and that’s something to look forward to indeed.

Green and Purple Pills

            In 1961 a record came out that struck a funny bone with my family. It was called, “Jeremiah Peabody’s Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills”. It was the first success for singer-songwriter Ray Stevens. The record was all about these wonder pills that could cure “all your ills”. My father especially thought it was funny because he had been doing the “gut-gut-goon” thing for years. I’m not sure if he made it up or had heard it in a song or movie from the 40’s, but the song was a reminder of his humor. It’s really a version of the old “snake oil” bit. My mother remembered a man who had a wagon and two mules that came around about every 3 months. He sold pots and pans, cooking utensils, knives, tools, and medicine. This was long before the government passed laws regulating the sale of medicines. He had his own concoction that was supposed to ease rheumatism and other such conditions.

            The song wasn’t a huge hit, but it did reach the Top 40. It mentioned all the ills that the elixir would cure. A nagging cough, whizzing, stuffy nose, neuralgia, arthritis, and even water on the knee could be cured by taking those green and purple pills. The song became a household joke for us. If one of us got sick with something, then it would be suggested we take some of those pills. I have fond memories of that song and hearing my father laugh when we would play the record.

            Sitting here thinking about that song I couldn’t help thinking of something a little more serious and a current event. The way I see it, the government (both parties are complicit) is like a snake oil salesman. They’ll fix all our problems if we vote them into office. Healthcare, border control, freedom of this or that, and the Robin Hoodism that is so prevalent today are all examples. What you have to do is research the candidates and make an informed decision as to which ones are the most unreliable snake oil salesmen. Here’s a secret. The ones who promise the most are the snakiest of all! We have to use our brains about this. Does what candidate “A” says he can do make sense? What are the consequences? Despite what many of them say, nothing is free. It costs someone. Too often the someone turns out to be us.

            Perhaps most importantly we should consider what made America the best nation in the history of the world. America was formed and grew into a unique and wonderful nation on certain fundamental beliefs. Nobody owes you anything. If you want to achieve a status or goal, then it’s up to you. Hard work, perseverance, and honesty will always win the day. Yes, you may fail in an attempt. But that doesn’t mean someone cheated you or had an unfair advantage over you. Things just happen. How many farmers of the 19th century went west and despite their best efforts failed to make a living on their farm? They didn’t cry and say, “It’s the fault of that farmer down the road who is doing so well.” No, they picked themselves up and tried again somewhere else. Sometimes progress gets in our way. We can choose to weep and moan about how progress is running us out of business, or we can adapt. Stagecoaches were a main form of transportation for centuries. Early crude stagecoaches go back to the 13th century in England. Here in America they had improved designs and became the way for Americans wanting to travel great distances. But in about 1830 steam locomotives were coming into use. It took several decades, but eventually stagecoaches were supplanted by railroads. However, about the time the last horse drawn stagecoach was used a new way of travel was opening up. Motorized buses came into their own by the 1930’s. They are still used today, but not to the extent that they once were. The 50’s and 60’s were their heyday. What changed? The Eisenhower Interstate Highway Act made it possible for people to drive their own automobiles across the nation. Oh, there were hardy souls who had been doing it on the muddy tracks called roads, but it didn’t become a realistic form of travel until the roads were improved. Progress was the name of the game. Wells Fargo Stagecoaches were a major player in that industry. They began in 1852 as an express company. But the leaders of the company saw the changes coming and branched out into banking. By 1905 the two operations were separated. In short, they adapted, and they thrived.

            Back on point. This is a big election year. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. You most likely wouldn’t rely on my opinion anyway. What I will tell you is how to vote. I know that we all have prejudices based on our own personal history. But try not to let those prejudices color your outlook. If a party or candidate says something, then use the old smell test. Is what they are selling simply snake oil? Take a whiff and find out. Maybe you don’t like a candidate as a person, but they may have the best interests of America and its citizens at heart. Don’t buy into lies and especially utopian schemes. If it sounds too good to be true, then most likely it really is too good to be true. Look at the backtrail of what the candidate is saying. Has it been tried before many times and never worked? What makes you think it will now? Voting isn’t merely a right. It’s also a responsibility. I know that’s become a dirty word these days, but it fits nicely here. Vote responsibly, informed, and with the best interests of all of us in mind. Just because a candidate makes a promise that you like doesn’t mean that he can make it happen, that it will be what he says it will be, or that it is a moral promise. Don’t forget to get out your “gut-gut-goon” tester and make sure you’re not buying snake oil or green and purple pills.       

 

https://youtu.be/aJrcE8HwwuY

A Week On The Farm

            When I was young, I would stay with my grandparent’s at their farm for a week here and there. This was before I started 1st grade. All through elementary school I would stay a week at a time during the summer as well. My parents would leave me with my grandparents after spending a weekend with them and then return the next weekend to pick me up. I loved those weeks and they were very important to my formative years. Grandma and Grandpa always seemed to have time for me. We didn’t watch much TV in those days, but they did own a black and white set with an outside antenna mounted on the old windmill tower. We always watched the news at 6 p.m. and then ate supper after the news. They only received two channels in the country, and they were both CBS affiliated. So, for all intents and purposes they carried the same shows. Channel 9 in Lufkin, Texas was closer to the farm than Bryan, Texas so we usually watched the news and weather on Channel 9. There was usually one night a week when neighbors would come over and they would play the dominoes game, Texas 42. I mostly remember watching shows such as “Mr. Ed”, “The Rifleman”, “Wagon Train”, and “Rawhide”.

            My grandmother didn’t really watch much TV though. She would keep an eye on it while darning or knitting, but much of her evenings were spent quilting in another room or sewing. Grandpa and I would watch the TV together or sometimes we would just sit and talk. I would do my best to help with chores that he did in the evening such as bringing in wood for the stove. There were some nights when he and I would go out on the front porch and watch for shooting stars. He knew all the constellations and it was amazing how he could predict the weather just by looking at the sky. They had these two old wooden chairs with iron skids and springs that made them into rockers. I mostly remember them as being a dark green, but they got repainted from time to time and were white for a time and then later they were a light green. There were days when it was shady on the porch, after about 4 p.m., and Grandma and I would snap peas. It was downright addicting. I compare it to sitting down today with a sheet plastic packing and popping it with your fingers.

            Most days Grandpa would be off working in the fields either clearing brush and trees or working with his cattle. I used to love going with him in the afternoon to feed the cows. He had those rectangle bales of hay as well as corn that he grew for the cows. The barn had a corn crib that he would back up to and shovel corn into the bed of the truck. That shovel seemed like a shovel that Goliath would have used. It was huge.

            Then there was Tuesday. Tuesday was the day we went into town. The town was Trinity, Texas and it is about 11 miles from the farm. This was pretty much the highlight of the week. Grandma brushed her hair and put on a dab of perfume while Grandpa checked out his new Stetson in the old oval mirror hanging in the dining room. It was one of only two mirrors in the house. Grandma made sure that I was properly attired as well. In hot weather I wore a nice pair of shorts with suspenders and a dress shirt. Going to town was a big deal in those days. We would drive into town in their 1961 Chevrolet pickup truck that was their “town” car. There isn’t a square in Trinity, but there was a main area. The main street was highway 19 and there were two cross streets with all kinds of stores. The first stop was always the bank. It was one of only a couple of businesses that had A/C. I thought it was such a refined building. The remnants of it are still there, but it has been gutted and there are trees growing up inside of it. There were two ornate columns out front and when you went inside you were feasted to the sight of marble everywhere. The counters, the floors, and the walls were made out of marble. It was a greenish color and it fit the bank perfectly because it looked like money. Grandma and Grandpa would take care of their banking business and I always got a piece of candy from the bank teller.

            We would split up for a while after the banking. Grandma went to the fabric store for sewing supplies and I would go with Grandpa to drop off an older hat that needed to be blocked or perhaps he would look at the belts and ties. Next, we would meet up with Grandma and go into the pharmacy. Sometimes they would buy medicines that they needed, but many times we went in there to visit the soda fountain. Grandpa used to say, “Nothing beats good ole vanilli.” I was prone to chocolate myself. Sitting there at the soda fountain was magical. The ceiling fans would be twirling, and the utensils would gleam in the overhead lights. They usually had a radio on, and it would be tuned to the station in Crockett, Texas. Between country hits of the day there would be advertisements for the local businesses in Crockett.

            After we finished our treat, we would head over to the dime store. Grandma would give me 50 cents to spend and that would buy a balsa wood airplane, a package of balloons, or a water gun. Sometimes I would just buy some rolls of caps for my cap gun. I was a rootin’ tootin’ cowboy. Finally, we would go to the little grocery store. They didn’t need to buy much in the way of food because they grew all their own vegetables, had homemade jellies and jams, grew their own beef and chicken, and had plenty of eggs. Grandma had stopped churning butter by then, but we still have her old butter churn. They also would buy milk by then due to it would be pasteurized and safer to drink. Grandma would buy things like salt and pepper, bacon (they had stopped raising hogs), and baking goods. When we finished there, it was time to go home. I remember once on a very hot day telling my Grandpa that our new car had A/C and how nice it was. He said, “Well, we’ve got A/C too. It’s a 240-air conditioner. Two windows open at 40 miles an hour!”

            When we got back home it was time for lunch and then the one time every day that I dreaded the most. Nap time. Funny, it’s my favorite part of the day now. Saturday mornings I would watch reruns of “The Roy Rogers Show” and “Sky King” along with “Mighty Mouse” and “Merrie Melodies”. Grandma had a round ottoman that I would turn on it’s side and it was my trusty steed indeed. Mom and Dad and my sisters would get there around lunch on Saturday and I would get all the news from my sisters. Those days seem so long ago yet like yesterday. I miss those who are gone. My grandparents, parents, sister, all of my aunts and uncles, all of the neighbors and too many of my own contemporaries. But the great thing is that they still live in my memory.

 

Grandma and Grandpa ready for going into town. I'm a few years older than both of them were here.

The Gauntlet of Fire

            From the time I can remember until I was about 13, I went barefoot when outside playing. Of course, this wasn’t true during cold weather, but in Texas it is warm or hot weather from as early as March until as late as October. The feel of the grass on my bare feet was always great. I liken it to John McClain scrunching up his toes and using the carpet in the executive bathroom in the Nakatomi Plaza in “Die Hard”. It just felt so good. However, there were some pitfalls when going barefoot. First, there were times when you found yourself without shoes and in the land of “Stickers”. Going through such a minefield was tiptoe #1. Of course, the worst landmines were those left by Fido, Snoopy, and Rin Tin Tin. Second, there was tiptoe #2 -hot pavement. Sometimes just getting across the street was about the same as walking on hot coals. The amazing part about going barefoot and hot pavement was that we consciously made the choice to do so. Let’s go back to the summer of 1968. It’s a hot July afternoon and there was a dime in my pocket just aching to be traded to a Coke machine three blocks away in Gerland’s Supermarket. It’s not like we were so poor that I didn’t own shoes. But putting on shoes just seemed like such a chore. So, I would head for the store. The grass in our front yard was no problem, but the first bed of coals was our street. Sometimes I would tiptoe and sometimes I would run. Either way my feet were going to feel it. Getting to the next block wasn’t too bad. I could stay on the grass on either side of the sidewalk and there were a couple of large shade trees that allowed walking on the sidewalk to be pain free. Then it was time to cross the next street. If I was lucky, the people who lived on the corner of the house on the other side of the street would have been running a sprinkler and the grass would be nice and cool. But that didn’t happen near enough.

            Now we come to the “gauntlet of fire”. At the end of the property of that last house was a large parking lot for the shopping center that housed Gerland’s, Dugan’s Drugs, Ralph’s Hardware, a beauty salon, a barbershop, a furniture store, and a couple of small businesses including a dentist’s office. That side parking lot was a good 50 yards of hot pavement. To make matters worse the lot was strewn with small pebbles as well as pull tabs from canned colas. Remember, I chose to go barefoot. Makes you wonder if I had a brain. This was not tiptoe terrain. No, it was heel terrain. My heels had more callouses than any other part of my feet, so as quickly as possible I got across that parking lot walking on the heels of my feet. Speaking of callouses, in those days my feet were pretty dad burn tough. They also required a good scrubbing every night whether I wanted to or not. Mom would have scalped me if I put those feet on my sheets.

            But the gauntlet wasn’t nearly finished. There was the unshaded walkway in front of all the stores that I still had to transverse. At least it was smooth and didn’t have rocks and such. Gerland’s was in the middle of the shopping center. By the time I got to that magical door that opened by itself I was salivating over the thought of the cool tile floor just a few feet away. It almost hurt because the floor was cold from the A/C in the store. We didn’t have A/C at home and to be in that store was like Heaven. Just to the right of the front doors was that beautiful Coke machine. I hurriedly put my dime in the slot, listened to the satisfying sound of the dime clicking down the gullet of that machine and then the even better sound of the mechanism that released the 10 ounce bottle of elixir and the “clunk” as it landed in the opening where I would quickly extract it and pry off the bottle cap on the opener affixed to the side of the machine. Now, I could have paid an additional 3 cents for the deposit on that bottle and headed back home immediately. But where’s the fun in that? The first thing I would do after opening that bottle wasn’t to take a swig. Nope, I would take that bottle that was about 38 degrees cold and put it up against my cheek and then my forehead. Then I took that first swig and felt the delicious cold burn as the liquid slid down my throat. Now, as it happened, on the other side of the aisle from the Coke machine resided two things. First, there was the place where you took all your bottles to get your deposits back. But right next to that was the magazine rack. I didn’t have money to buy many magazines, but once in a while I had 12 cents for a comic book. In those days, you didn’t get taxed on anything until the total was 25 cents. If money permitted, I would thumb through the comic books and choose one. If there was no extra money that day, then I would look at the covers. I did this while enjoying those 10 ounces of pure joy. But all too soon the bottle was empty, and I would put it in one of the crates beside of the Coke machine.

            I would slowly walk back to the front doors and steel myself to the task before me. The walk home never seemed quite as good as the walk to the store. Once I was back home, I would sometimes sit on the front porch and do some contemplating. I might think about how the Astros were doing, about the latest records that were hits on the radio, or perhaps an upcoming television program that I was anxious to watch. But mostly I took in the little world that was right there around me. The big Arizona Ash in the front yard and how nice the shade was that it provided. The new Mercury Montego that Mr. Evans had just gotten. The cat that the old lady catercorner from our house fed. That was one tough cat. I saw it get hit by a car in the head while running across the street and teeth went flying, but that cat just shook it off and kept going. He lived for several more years after that. I thought about the shape of the clouds. It seems like I thought about everything.

            I don’t live in that world anymore. That world doesn’t exist anymore and hasn’t for over 50 years now, but there are remnants of it in my life today. And I’m not just talking about the memories. I still go out and sit on the porch every day. No, it’s not the same porch, but it does give me a view to the little world that I live in today. I do a lot contemplating on my porch. In fact, many times these blog entries have their beginning when I’m sitting on my porch. Even though THE world is vastly different today than it was 50 years ago, and we have lost a great deal of the good things that the world once had, you can still find good things in the world today. You just have to look a bit harder to find them. So, what are you waiting for? Start looking!

My Favorite Five Novels

            It is no secret that I love to read. Although I enjoy greatly non-fiction books about a plethora of subjects, I lean toward fiction novels. I have enjoyed reading novels since I was in elementary school. Of course, I read books that were written for my age at that time (for the most part). These included a series of novels presented by Alfred Hitchcock known as, “The Three Detectives”, “Desmond, The Dog Detective”, “The Diamond Cave Mystery”, “Ivanhoe”, and “Robinson Crusoe”. By the time I reached high school I was reading books with a little more meat on the bone. In my freshman year of high school, I got hooked on reading some of the so-called “classics”. These included “A Tale of Two Cities”, “The Count of Monte Cristo”, “Don Quixote”, “The Time Machine”, and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. All of these books created a foundation for my love of reading and in some ways, they were pathways to life in general. We were required to read “The Lord of The Flies” in 9th grade as well. It is one of the few books that I have read that I truly dislike. I might even say that my dislike for that novel borders on hate. I understand the story. I mean, I get it. But I don’t like it one bit. For one thing, it reminded me too much of junior high gym class. I’m not kidding. Fortunately, there have only been a handful of books that I have disliked as much.

            In my sophomore year we had one six-week period in English in which our entire grade was based on a book report (both oral and written) on a book chosen from five book choices that we were given to choose from. I made my choice based on reading the outer cover of the book that became and still is my all-time favorite book. Oddly enough, most people that I know have never heard of the book. It is a book entitled, “Alas Babylon”. It was published in 1959 and written by Pat Frank. It is the fictional account of the aftermath of a nuclear war and the effects on the people in a small town in Florida. I had that book read within two days and then I read it again. In fact, I have read that book at least 25 or 30 times. I re-read it about every 3 or 4 years. The mood comes upon me to relive that book and I indulge myself. The copy that I have now is not the same paperback that I owned in 1972. However, I do still have my 1979 copy. It is a treasure to me.

            Over the years I have probably read well over a thousand novels. Heck, I own half that many now. But there was a time when I traded paperbacks at a used bookstore for other books. So, I didn’t keep every book that I ever read. Sometime in the 1980’s I started collecting hardback copies. Most of them were first editions. These days, I’m selective on what I will spend my money for a hardback as opposed to a paperback.

            So, let me tell you now my five all-time favorite books. I do have one caveat though. These are my favorite five at the time that I am writing this. Let’s be honest here There have been many novels that I have come to love and choosing a favorite five is very difficult. But here goes.

  1. “Alas Babylon” by Pat Frank – As mentioned earlier, I read this originally in 1972. I very much so identify with the main character.

  2. “To Kill A Mockingbird” – Harper Lee – I actually saw the movie first when I was about 7-years-old. I identified with Scout back then. We were about the same age and perhaps equally precocious. However, I later came to identify with Atticus. His sense of right and wrong and fairness. He is someone that you can respect and admire for his character. I can only hope that I will some day be admired for taking a stand for right and wrong.

  3. “Fear Nothing” by Dean Koontz – I read this when it came out in 1998. It’s a suspense novel with tinge of science fiction. I like both genres and the characters are well-developed and likeable. There was an equally good sequel called “Seize The Night”. I chose “Fear Nothing” mainly because it introduces us to the characters. I highly recommend both to you.

  4. “The Walking Drum” – Louis L’Amour – Now, before you get to thinking “A shoot-em-up oater”, think again. This was one of Mr. L’Amour’s last novels and my personal favorite. As much as I love his western novels, this one is in a class of its own. It’s what is called “historical fiction”. I can only imagine the research that he had to do in order to write this book. As a historian, I very much enjoyed the factional aspects of the book coupled with a wonderful fictional story. The book follows the life of a man from when he was about 15 until he is about 30. It takes place in the 1200’s and takes us from the Mideast to Europe and parts of Asia.

  5. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” Mark Twain – I first read this book in about 1970. It’s just stupid that political correctness has tried to denigrate this wonderful work. It was written in a time and about a time when things were different. I don’t really need to tell you what it’s about though. It’s so famous and well-known. I think I will always love the adventures that Huck and Jim go through on their journey on the Mississippi river.

            So, there you have it. My list of my favorite five novels. There are so many more that love and to choose just five is very difficult. But, have whittled them down and this be them. Feel free to reply with your list.

When Every Day Was Thanksgiving Day

            There are many objects that I associate with my childhood years and spending time at my grandparent’s farm. There was the old crank phone. The earpiece for that phone was very heavy, but my grandmother seemed to not notice when she made calls on the that phone. There was the old wood stove in the living room of the house. It was huge and my grandfather had purposefully installed it in so that you could walk behind or in front of it. The advantage was that several people could stand around it to get warm. There was a homemade gun rack hanging over the front door that held two .22 caliber rifles (I have both of them now) and a very old Civil War era shotgun that had been handed down through the years. My great-great-grandfather had bought it in the 1860’s.

            In the garage that was beside the house there were treasures galore. Up until I was about 8-years-old the garage had a second-floor apartment. It had originally been built in the 1930’s to house the schoolteacher for the one room community schoolhouse that was within walking distance of the house. In that old garage there were cane fishing poles, some homemade tools, a very large crosscut saw that my sister and brother-in-law have now that is painted and used as a wall decoration, many yard implements and tools, and there was still room enough for two Chevrolet pick-up trucks. My grandfather would get a new truck about every three years. But he would keep a truck for six years. The first three years, when the truck was new, it was their “city” truck. It was used for going to town, to church, to vote, etc. When the previous “city” truck had spent three years as a farm truck it would be sold, and a new truck purchased. This would then render the “city” truck as the farm truck. Grandpa would use the old truck as a trade-in and sell a couple of cows to pay cash for the new truck. My first memories are of their 1955 Chevrolet Apache 1-ton truck that was doing duty as the farm truck and their 1958 Chevrolet 3100 Stepside city truck. In 1961 a teal colored Chevrolet Stepside replaced the 1955. The last truck that they bought was a white 1964 Chevrolet Fleetside. Grandpa died in 1967 and my grandmother had to move into town because she wouldn’t be able to live alone on the farm. They had a big auction after my grandfather died and sold all of the farm implements, a couple of trailers, both trucks, and all of the cattle. Grandma kept the land though. I now own 45 acres of what was their farm.

            Grandpa’s passing was a change for the whole family. As my mother once said, “That was when everything changed.” For the first two years my grandmother lived about 12 miles from the farm in the small town of Trinity, Texas. She spent a day or two a week at the farmhouse just to keep it cleaned and give it that “lived-in” feel. We still spent occasional weekends there, but nothing like we had before. Grandma’s health became a concern by early 1969 and it was decided that she needed to live closer to her two daughters (my mother and my aunt) in Houston. She sold her Trinity house and moved into a brand-new townhouse in Spring Branch, a suburb of Houston. You could see her townhouse from my aunt’s house. This move meant that she could have help when needed, help going to the doctor’s and so forth. In the fall of 1972, the family decided it would be great to have Thanksgiving at the farm again. So, the plan was for us to all get there on the day before Thanksgiving and have time to cook the meal etc. My sister and brother-in-law asked if they could have the old crank phone. My brother-in-law wanted to refinish the phone and they were going to use it as a decoration in the house. Well, we got to the farmhouse on Wednesday afternoon and the front door was crashed in and the door frame broken. Thieves had broken in and stolen that crank phone, the old shotgun, and some other items. When we asked the County Sherriff’s Deputy why on Earth someone would steal that old phone he said, “To go fishing”. It seems the old crank phones had a magneto. The thieves would hook up wires from a car battery to the magneto and toss the phone into a pond. This would effectively electrocute the fish which caused them to float to the top of the water. The thieves then just scooped them up with a net. How nice.

            Over the next few years the farmhouse was broken into several times. Thieves even stole the behemoth wood stove! My parents replaced it in the early 80’s with a smaller one that is there to this day. Before I built my house and moved up here, I would spend a weekend every once in a while, in the farmhouse. This was in the 1990’s and early part of the 2000’s. I would purchase a cord of firewood in the fall and it would last all winter for my visits. Sadly, on three or four occasions when I got there and went to start a fire in the stove, I would find the dead bodies of some beautiful bluebirds. They had managed to get down the exhaust pipe from the roof and then were unable to get back out. It was sad to look at those birds with their rose-colored breasts and cerulean wings just laying there in old ashes from the last fire.

            There was one thing that I was determined not to allow to be stolen before I could get them. However, I failed to do so. There were several old phone poles, the kind that looked like big crosses, that were no longer used by the phone company, but still stood in our fields. Those poles had off-white colored ceramic insulators on them. Four on each side of the cross. I made a plan. I was going to get those insulators and make a display of them. I set aside a weekend for the project. I packed up for the weekend and in the back of my truck I had an extension ladder that would get me up to the crosses that had the insulators. I had my tools and I headed to the farmhouse. I got there late on Friday night (had to wait until after work to leave) and went to bed. I got up the next morning and was ready to do what I went there to do. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I went outside and saw from the farmhouse that all of those insulators were gone. They had been there two months before, but now they were gone. Someone had just helped themselves to them.

            There isn’t much, if anything, left in the farmhouse from those long-ago days of my childhood. Those items were either stolen, thrown away, or retrieved by family members as keepsakes. The house is full of stuff though. It’s become the place where old furniture of family members goes when no longer considered fit for their home. I think about that old crank phone and the telephone insulators from time to time. They were there for a very long time and we certainly had ample opportunity to get them. But by the time it occurred to us that we might want to get them thieves had made of with them. The insulators probably weren’t worth much money and still aren’t. But they meant something to me. The old phone even more so. I have memories of that phone ringing and my grandmother talking on it. It was installed on a wall in the dining room in an out of the way corner. There was no chair to sit in while on the phone because you didn’t spend time on the phone like people have for the last 50 years. You used a phone to call someone and tell them something and it was always short and sweet. I do have one thing from that old phone. For some reason, the thieves cut-off the earpiece and it was left lying on the floor of the dining room. My mother had kept it and when she passed away, I got it. It’s displayed in a corner curio cabinet in my house along with an empty snuff box of my grandfather’s, some arrowheads and spearheads that my grandfather found when plowing the fields, an old aluminum tumbler that we drank out of as children when visiting my grandparents, my grandfather’s last pocket watch, and his straight razor with a pearl handle. I’m thankful these items survived the thieves and time itself. Most of all, I’m thankful for the memories of when every day was a Thanksgiving Day.

 

The farmhouse and garage circa 2003.

 

A gathering at the farmhouse circa 1960. From left to right: My grandfather, Mom,

Sister Barbara, Grandma, Aunt Majel, Uncle Tommy Sister Debbie holding Tiger the Cat, Me, and my father.

The photo was taken by my Uncle Paul.

 

In My Room

            Three weeks before I turned 16 my sister got married. My only part of that wedding was to wear a black tuxedo and perform the job of being an usher. I can’t say that I was sad to see her move out though. Oh, we got along great and I wished her the best. But it was her bedroom that I wanted and was promised once she moved out. So, the week that I turned 16 I took possession of that bedroom. Why was that bedroom so much better than the one that I had for the previous 5 years? It had its own dedicated phone. The phone had been a graduation present to my sister when she graduated from high school the year before her wedding. It wasn’t simply an extension line from my parent’s phone line. Nope, it was a separate phone line altogether. A totally different number. I remember it well. 467-3361, It became my phone when I moved into that room. There I was a 16-year-old boy with his own phone line. Could life have been any better?

            There’s a song by The Beach Boys that I always liked. It’s called “In My Room”. It’s full of teenage angst. Although the song was a hit 8 years before I turned 16, it was something that I certainly identified with. There were some changes necessary to make that room totally mine. For one thing, the aqua blue drapes had to go. I painted the room the only color that Mom would allow me to paint it, off-white. But it needed painting since it had probably been a dozen or more years since it had received a new coat of paint. I also had been collecting a great many wall posters. I had a black light as well. I would listen to records with just the black light on and dream of the days to come. In those days, I didn’t look back much. I was more focused on looking ahead. I had a big black light poster that simply proclaimed, “Peace”, and an assortment of posters that came with record albums that I had bought. Heck, I bought some albums just for the posters inside. The Beatles photos from their “White Album” were on one wall, a big 24x36 inch poster from George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” was there. Posters of Harry Nilsson, Three Dog Night, Frank Zappa, Paul McCartney and Wings, and a few others lined the walls.     

            Later, in 1973, there was a big poster purchased at Astroworld of me, my girlfriend, my friend Lonny, and his girlfriend prominently displayed. I got my first real stereo when I was 17 and my parents bought me a stereo cabinet that had room for my records too. An odd assortment of things were on the headboard of my bed. It was one of those old headboards with shelves and sliding doors. There was a yellow flashing light that had once warned people of a construction zone. Don’t ask where it came from because I don’t remember. There was a speaker from the Thunderbird Drive-in. (I plead the fifth). My collection of KILT Top 40 Surveys, a couple of photo albums, a chess set, and the high school phone directory sat on top of the headboard. I had a chest of drawers with my first ever blow dryer (a-la-Keith Partridge), my camera, and a couple of change trays on top. There was a fair-sized mirror above the chest of drawers. I had two closets in my room, but I was only allowed one for myself. The other one was my mother’s “catch-all” closet with things that I’d rather not think about. In my closet, my flared and bell bottom pants hung beside several pairs of thin corduroy pants next to my paisley shirts and my assortment of belts. These included belts that were incredibly wide. My go-to belt was a 2” wide brown leather belt. I had four pairs of shoes. My dress shoes that I hardly ever wore, my suede desert boots that were my “going out” shoes, a new pair of tennis shoes, and my old pair of tennis shoes with a hole for my right big toe to wink at passersby.

            Somewhere in that room were some schoolbooks, but they tended to get buried until needed. I made a lot of phone calls on that turquoise princess phone. Hey, it beat no phone by mile! The room started to get filled up with guitars, a bass, amplifiers, microphones, and the like. I wrote a lot of songs sitting on my bed with one of my acoustic guitars and a spiral notebook and pen. I still have all of the original papers that I wrote the songs on with scratch-outs, chords, lyrics, and notes such as “capo on 2nd fret”. The fact is, that room was my domain. It was my kingdom. I ended up living in that room from September of 1971 until September of 1976 when I moved out to get married. I had great times in that room. Sometimes it was just me and my thoughts, hopes, and dreams while other times friends would be over and we’d listen to records, practice songs, or in the case of a girlfriend, there were some stolen kisses with an eye on the door and an ear tuned to any activity in the hallway. Some of the best memories of my life are from being in that room. Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys said it so well, “There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to”. That was how I felt about my little 10’x12’ bedroom. I’m sure that some of you didn’t get to experience their own room. Perhaps you had to share a room with a sibling. But I’m also sure that there are others of you who had their own room too and have similar stories to tell. If so, then please reply in a comment. I’d truly like to hear about your life in your room.

 

Taken June 22, 1973. I had just gotten home from being gone for two weeks and I had one picture left on a roll in my camera.

I had a friend snap this candid photo "In My Room"

Taken sometime in late 1972. That's the headboard behind me with the yellow light among other things.

The Ballad of Walker Cane

            I believe its natural for us to portray ourselves in the best light as possible. Now, there are certainly some people who seem to love being felt sorry for. Those people will often make sure that everyone sees how bad off they are, physically speaking. Many times, it’s not as bad as they make it out to be. But I think most of us don’t want to display our infirmities if at all possible. I watched a movie tonight that made me think about this issue. It was made in 1974 and starred John Wayne. The movie is “McQ” and its really quite good. The script had originally been proposed as a movie for Steve McQueen, but he declined the role and it was re-written with John Wayne in mind. It was the first of only two movies in which he played a cop. It was directed by the highly successful and excellent director John Sturges. He is best known for directing the blockbusters, “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Great Escape”. The film features a chase seen worthy of Steve McQueen in a 1973 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am with a 455 cubic inch V-8 and all the trimmings for the day. He would only make three more movies after “McQ”.

            John Wayne was 66 when the movie was filmed. A bit long in the tooth for a cop, but he pulls it off amazingly well. What you don’t realize as you’re watching the movie is that due to his having lost one of his lungs to cancer, he could only walk a short distance before having to take an oxygen treatment. You would never know it. He was a good actor and when it came to being physically limited and hiding it, he was a great actor. It was a mere two years before his last film, “The Shootist” in which he plays an aged and dying gunslinger. Knowing what he was having to go through physically it makes his acting in that movie that much more amazing. He died only 5 years after “McQ” came out.

            I truly believe that there are a lot of people, especially people over a certain age, who do their best to hide the ailments that they are fighting. You probably know people that you would never guess are dealing with a chronic illness or handicap. You may be one of them. I am, but I’m not going to go into that. Suffice it to say that time is the great equalizer. We need to be more patient with each other. If there’s someone at the grocery store who is obviously aged and is using a cane or walker or riding one of those carts, then put yourself in their place. They certainly don’t want to have to live that way. And don’t judge them either. Maybe they’re overweight. It’s a little too easy to think that they’re just lazy or that they’re in their situation by their own doing. Whenever I see a person who appears to be 20 years older than I am, then I think about how they were active young adults when I was a child. They did their fair share of bending down and helping a toddler up after a fall. They did their fair share of being patient with children who were running around like a bunch of wild Indians. Well, it’s my turn now to be patient with them. It doesn’t take much to be nice to someone, but it means so very much to that person when you are. If we all live long enough, then our bodies are going to wear out. It’s a fact of life. There are also plenty of younger people who are dealing with serious illnesses that you can’t see. Cancer, diabetes, and a whole host of diseases don’t care what age you are. I have a dear friend whose daughter was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was about 7-years-old. She had to go through things as a child that other children didn’t have to face. But she’s in her late 30’s now with children of her own and is a successful nurse practitioner. I can’t help but wondering if her illness as a child inspired her to help others.

            So, next time you’re in a store or traffic and someone isn’t moving fast enough to suit you or is riding on one of those carts and blocking the aisle, try wearing a smile and being nice. I know how hard that can be with some people. I know that there are days when we just don’t feel like smiling. But it pays to be nice and it’s the right thing to do.

Cool Change

            There are things that happen in life that are just plain weird. There’s absolutely no logical explanation for these things. I know how this is going to sound to some of you, but I promise you that I am telling the truth. This is not fiction. First, let me tell you about some early strangeness in my life. When I was about 10-years-old my father decided that I had some kind of telepathy. He was a big fan of science fiction. He said that I sure could guess well. We used to sit at the kitchen table on opposite ends. He would take a stack of my baseball cards and hide them under the table so that only he could see them. He would then take one of them and concentrate on the name of the player. My job was to see if I could figure out who’s card he was looking at. It was pretty amazing when I started getting about 50% of them correct. Another thing that started to happen to me and still happens from time to time is I’ll be driving along in the car (or in the days before I could drive, I’d be in my room at home) and a song would just pop into my head. I’d turn on the radio and there it would be playing. I remember doing this once when a friend from school was over one Friday night. We were sitting there on my bed playing a game of Stratego when I looked up and said, “KILT is playing “Bend Me Shape Me” on the radio. Well, the radio wasn’t on anywhere in the house and my friend Mark just smirked at me. I reached up and turned on my radio that was on the headboard and out blasted that song. Mark got freaked out and stood up, backed away from me, and said, “That’s just freaky, man.” I guess it was.

            So, let me tell you about what was probably the weirdest thing like this that happened. It was late in 1979 and my wife and I had recently moved to Dallas from Houston. Her parents lived near Lake Somerville and we had not been able to visit them for a while. It was time to make that drive. One of the ways that we could get there was to drive down to Temple, Texas and pick up Hwy 36. Hwy 36 would take us down to the turn-off in Lyons, Texas that would take us to their house. Not far from Rockdale, Texas on Hwy 36 we crossed a small river. I made a comment about its name being “Little River” and how much I enjoyed the music of a band that was popular at the time called “The Little River Band”. We made it to her parent’s house around 9 o’clock on that Friday night. We visited them and hung out all day on Saturday and then spent the night. Sunday morning my wife got up first and when she came in to wake me for breakfast I awoke with a start. I had been having a very realistic dream. I didn’t tell her about it right away. But later that afternoon when we were heading for home, I told her about the dream. In the dream I was visiting with two members of the Little River Band. Yea, I know that sounds kind of weird, but just wait. We were in a recording studio and I asked the lead vocalist if they had any new records coming out soon. He told me that they sure did. A new single called “Cool Change” was about to be released.

            When I told my wife about the dream, she thought it was weird, but she was kind of used to me having weird dreams. About an hour later we were approaching the river crossing on Hwy 36 over Little River and we had the radio tuned in to a station in Temple, Texas. Honest to goodness I’m not lying here. Just as we crossed the Little River the DJ came on and said, “Here’s a brand-new record by The Little River Band. It’s called “Cool Change”. Well, I nearly swerved off the road and my wife was just sitting there staring at me. Then she said, “Is this a joke?” I guess the look on my face told her that it wasn’t.

            I cannot explain how any of that happened. I only told one other person about it because I figured people would think I was lying. But it really did happen. Years later I bought a CD of the greatest hits by The Little River Band. I still get a weird feeling when I hear that song. For anyone who might be interested, the record peaked at #10 in January of 1980.

            So, you might be asking yourself why I bothered telling you about this. Well, perhaps it’s to show that there are things in this life and our existence that we simply can’t explain. We may try to figure it out and then rationalize an event to make it easier to take, but in our hearts, we know that there’s just no explanation. I don’t believe there was some grand message being transmitted or that I have some kind of 6th sense. I just accept the fact that it happened and that’s that. I see no reason to waste time trying to figure out something that I can’t figure out. There’s a familiar saying that I always used to say. I flat-out overused the saying to the point that my mother bought a wall hanging with that phrase and gave it to me when I moved into my house. The saying, “It is what it is.” The fact is, we just have to accept some things the way they are and leave it at that. Instead of fretting over why something happened or is the way it is, we need to just accept it and move on. Now that’s a cool change.

Doors and Windows

            We bought a 1978 Honda Accord in January of 1987 to go along with our old 1975 Toyota Corolla. Yes, it already had 109,000 miles on it, but it appeared to be in good running condition. One weekend in 1988 my wife decided to take the kids up to visit her parents in the country. She would take the “good” car, the Honda Accord, and I would stay home with the old Toyota. I couldn’t go away for the weekend because I had a Saturday class from 9-12 and had to work on Saturday night. Her plan was to leave after work on that Friday and come home on Sunday afternoon. To be honest with you, I was kind of looking forward to a quiet Friday night by myself. I was sitting there at the dining table typing a report for school when the phone rang. It was my wife. They had gotten as far as US290 and FM1960 and the car had just “died”. Well, great. I figured it was most likely something such as a loose alternator belt causing the battery not to charge. I immediately drove out to the scene of the crime and after tightening the alternator belt using a crowbar, I hooked up jumper cables expecting the Honda to fire right up. My wife was sitting in the car with the kids and when I told her to try the key, nothing happened. Not even a click-click-click. Nothing happened at all. So, I called a wrecker and had them deliver it to a mechanic that we had used before. Of course, they were closed, but they would check it out the next day. So much for a quiet evening by myself.

            The next morning, I went to my class as usual and figured I would swing by the shop on the way home to find out what was wrong. I was still thinking that it would be something simple such as a completely dead battery. I got out of class and headed for the shop. When I got to the shop and walked in the front door, the owner looked at me and I could tell by the way that he looked that the news wasn’t going to be good. The problem? The timing belt broke. Now, that wouldn’t have been that big of an expense to simply replace the belt. But when a timing belt breaks while you’re driving, then serious damage to the engine can occur. And that’s exactly what had happened. I was told the engine was beyond repair. The valves and head were toast. He gave me the name of a guy who would buy salvage vehicles and said that I might be able to get a few bucks for the car. This was devasting news. I did not want to have to tell my wife that news. I called the salvage guy and he met me at the shop to look at the car. He said the best he could do was give me $250. I saw no alternative, so I sold it to him. We were back to being a one car family again.

            I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying about when God closes a door, He opens a window. Well, the door was that Honda Accord. The window that opened for us came about 2 weeks later. I got a call from my brother-in-law. He had bought a 1977 Chevrolet Impala a few months before and now his company was giving him a company car. He didn’t need that Impala and he literally gave us that car. It was a $750 gift. I just had to pay to transfer the title. It wasn’t without its issues, but even the one major thing that happened to that car lead to another window being opened by God. We had that Impala for about 8 months, and it was Christmas time. The transmission went out on the darn thing. A used transmission was going to cost $300. There went Christmas, or so I thought.  But someone had heard about our troubles and I received an anonymous gift of $300. All I could think was, “Wow”. It didn’t end there. About two weeks later someone else had heard about the problem and didn’t know about the gift we had received. This person was a deacon at our church, and he came to me to ask me if I needed help. I explained about the gift and that we were mobile again. That’s when he said that he had an old 1979 Buick LeSabre that he had bought new and that it was in good condition. I figured he was going to offer to sell it to me cheap, but no matter how cheap it was I couldn’t afford it. Then he told me that he had loaned it to his son who lived in San Antonio and that it was just sitting there collecting dust. His son didn’t need it anymore. This godly man then told me that he would pay to fly me to San Antonio to meet his son and get the car. He would give us the car and even pay for transferring the title. That was one great ole big window that God opened! Between those two incredible gifts our transportation needs were met until after my graduation from college.

            I’ve been very blessed in my life. Those two events are good examples of God’s blessings. Sometimes Satan digs a hole to cause us to stumble, but God fills it back up. Sometimes He overfills it, and this allows us to step up a little higher and see all the holes that have been filled by God in our life. I also believe that sometimes God leaves the holes and allows us to trip because we need to learn something important. If nothing else, it teaches us to watch where we step and to avoid stumbling as much as we might otherwise do. The great composer Irving Berlin wrote a song that was featured in the classic Christmas movie, “White Christmas” that was called “Count Your Blessings (instead of sheep)”. I think that’s a great idea and even though things come along to get me down and I stumble, I try to focus on and count my blessings, rather than contemplating the negatives.

A Thorny Situation

            In September of 1966 there was excitement in the air at our house. I had just turned 11, but the big news was my parents had decided that we would move back to the Houston area from Bryan where we had lived for 3 and a half years. At the time, I was excited because I wanted to be in the big city. As the years went by, I realized that those days in Bryan were golden. No, things weren’t perfect, but they were definitely special. Before we could move, we had to sell our house. My Uncle Victor owned several houses in Spring Branch and told my parents that they could have their pick and he would basically allow them to take over payments. So, we already had a place to move to, but first we had to sell our house. In the meantime, life carried on. I was in 5th grade and was looking forward to the coming year. Even though we wouldn’t be living in our house for much longer, I wanted to build a treehouse. There was just one problem. There was only one tree in our yard that was big enough to build a treehouse in and Mom nixed that immediately. It was right in the front yard and a homemade treehouse by an untrained builder would be a definite deterrent to selling the house.

            But that never stopped me from building my own treehouse. There was a vacant lot behind our house. Although there was only one tree on that lot, it was big enough for a treehouse. However, there was one itty bitty problem. The tree was what is known as a honey mesquite tree. Which meant that tree had thorns. Big thorns. But I was inventive. The first thing that I did was use my Dad’s handsaw and I cut off all the lower branches and smaller branches which was where 98% of the thorns on the tree could be found. I didn’t let them go to waste though. I’ll tell you about that in a minute. When we had moved into the house in 1963 it had a covered wooden carport that was attached to the house. At the end of the carport was a large covered storage shed. In 1965 my parents converted the carport into a shop for my Dad’s piano business. They converted the shed into a large storage closet. The old shed had two doors that were somewhat of the homemade variety. For some reason, my parents kept the old doors in the storage closet. Those two doors were attached with a long piano hinge and would fold in two. I asked Dad if I could have those doors and I think he was more than happy to get them out of the closet. After I had trimmed the tree and nailed some spare 2x4’s cut to about a foot long to use as steps, I got a length of old rope and tied one end of it to a large limb about 15 feet up. The rope would be my quick way down once the treehouse was in use. I hauled those doors out of the closet, out of the shop, and drug them through our yard and down to the tree in the vacant lot. The doors were about 7’ high. I maneuvered the folding doors in such a way as they were standing up on end. I had brought a stepstool down to the worksite and lifted the folding doors up on top of the stepstool which allowed the top of the doors to rest against one of two large limbs about 9 feet off the ground. I stooped down and, using the tree limb as a lever of sorts, I lifted those doors up until I could push them lying flat and resting on both of the limbs. Then I unfolded the doors and voila’! I had a floor for my treehouse. I nailed the floor to those two tree limbs, and it was secure. As humble as it might seem, that folding door turned floor was pretty much the full extent of my treehouse. I could lean up against the trunk of the tree or just sit Indian style.

            Now, remember those limbs with the thorns? I wove them together and made a barrier around the tree with two openings to walk through. What it lacked in esthetics, it was proficient at thwarting invaders. Not that I expected to be invaded, but I was just playing make believe. The last thing that I did was to use my parent’s rake and an old broom to clear the area beneath the treehouse. This allowed me to use that rope to disembark without fear of doing so and impaling my feet with thorns through my shoes. Over the next 2 months I had a great time in my treehouse. I would occasionally have guests, friends from the neighborhood, and I started a treehouse craze. Before long there were treehouses all over the neighborhood. My favorite thing about that treehouse was the fact that it allowed me to have a place to be alone. I would fix a sack lunch, a thermos filled with Kool-Aid, and take them along with my most recent comic books and mystery novels such as The Hardy Boys and spend a Saturday afternoon enjoying the alone time. I had a small wooden box that I could tie the end of the rope and haul my lunch and books and other things up to the treehouse.

            The last week of October we got the news that the house had sold. We were scheduled to move back to Houston on Thursday, November the 9th. That day finally came, and I went down to the school bus stop to say goodbye to my best friend in the neighborhood, Tommy Elliot. I officially bequeathed my treehouse to Tommy. Back at the house the movers were loading the moving van with all our earthly possessions. It was exciting and they had it all loaded up and ready to go by about 11 o’clock that morning. We all piled into the car and as we drove away, I looked back at the house that I had lived in for most of 2nd grade, all of 3rd and 4th grade, and two months of 5th grade. There were a lot of memories made while we lived there. But we were on our way to a new adventure. That treehouse has come to be a symbol for those last days in Bryan, Texas for me. It was a humble little treehouse, but it was a place to call my own. I never built another treehouse. I had pretty much outgrown the idea. I was interested in records, girls, and adventures made on my bike in a new neighborhood. Looking back on those last couple of months in Bryan I realize that it was a transitional period of time. I went to visit my friend Tommy about 4 years later. We had both just finished junior high school. The lot where that treehouse had been was not vacant anymore. In fact, the wooded area across the road from our house was filled with new homes and all of the vacant lots that had been in the neighborhood were sporting new homes as well. I made one last visit to see Tommy when I was 23-years-old. Only by then I was married, and my wife went with me. Tommy still lived at home with his mother. His dad had passed away. I have no idea what became of Tommy. That was 41 years ago now. I built that treehouse nearly 54 years ago. At times it seems like yesterday while other times it seems like a century ago. But that treehouse is still there in my memory along with my Converse Tennis Shoes that were “uppers” and white with a black patch, the beautiful fall days that I spent time reading and dreaming in that treehouse, and a simpler time in life.

Randolph Scott, An Aquarium, and A Red-Hot Spinning Top

            In the spring of 1975, I was 19-years-old. I worked a part-time job at Fox Photo and was also in a trio. We would often times practice until 10 or 11 o’clock in the evening. It was a time of change for me. I was out of high school and trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life. The job allowed me to earn money to pay for gas, dates, and the upkeep on my car. Many times, I would get home around 11 o’clock and what I didn’t know at the time was I would be making some great memories that I cherish today. It was a unique time. When I would get home, it would be after the evening news was over and my parents would have turned off the TV and be preparing for bed. But a very special ritual began for me and my dad that would only last for a little while. By the fall, I would be involved in a job that was more demanding, I was seriously dating the girl that would become my wife, and I guess the most significant thing that halted the ritual was my parents were having the kitchen and dining area remodeled. I’ll explain how that affected things in just a moment.

            During those months during the spring and early summer I was able to truly bond with my father in a way that I hadn’t been able to previously. I wasn’t just a child anymore. The remodeling was months away, so the house was still the way it had been since we moved there in 1967. The only difference was we had added on a den. What had been a very small den before the den was added, became my father’s home office area. It was where he had a desk and filing cabinet for his business. There were some floor to ceiling bookshelves that were built into the wall on one side of the room with a window between them. That window had at one time been where an A/C window unit had been, but we moved it to another window in the adjoining living room after we built the big den. In the fall of 1974, Dad decided to buy a fair-sized aquarium and put it in front of that window. He bought some very pretty and colorful fish to stock it with, a sunken ship that was not only an air pump but provided a place for the fish to explore and some rocks and a cave like formation. He also had a special aquarium light that could be set for daylight and moonlight.

            I would get home and Mom would have already gone back to get ready for bed. Dad would be sitting there in his desk chair facing the aquarium with all the lights off in the room except for the aquarium light. He simply liked to sit and watch the fish and it was soothing to him. I got to where I started making sure that I got home in time to pull up a chair and sit there with him. While we watched the zebra fish, angelfish, tetras, and other fish that he purchased at Pier 1 imports when they were a different kind of store than they are today, we would talk about our day. He would tell me what parts of town he had gone to on his service calls that day, what kind of repair work he had brought home, and things that might have seemed mundane subjects such as where he ate lunch that day. I would tell him about my day too. The customers that I met, the new products we were selling at Fox Photo, how the trio was going, and so forth. I recall him telling me about songs that were current hits on the station that he listened to in the car. In particular, he was very fond of songs such as “Whatever Happened To Randolph Scoot” by The Statler Brothers” and “Ice Cream Sodas, Lollipops, and Red-Hot Spinning Tops”. I probably thought they were hokey at the time, but now when I hear those songs there’s a tightening in my chest as I think of my Dad and those evenings in front of the aquarium. After about 30 minutes or so, Dad would head-off to bed with the nightly instruction to be sure and turn off the lights in the den if I stayed up to watch TV. As he got up and started to leave, he would reach down for just a second and squeeze my shoulder with his hand. It was his way of saying, “I love you”.

            Although those days didn’t last a long time, they were like seeds being planted for a plant that wouldn’t sprout for decades. The last dozen or so years of Dad’s life we became very close. We would talk on the phone every day, I would go over to visit them several times a week, and from time to time I would take him with me to run errands in town just to share some time together. I think those days back in 1975 really did plant a seed that yielded fruit 30 and 40 years later. And, they still do in a way. Although Dad has been gone now almost 4 years, I have those memories. I was in the car today coming back from Huntsville and I had the XM radio on. One of the stations that I have programed on the radio is “Willie’s Roadhouse”. It’s a station sponsored by Willie Nelson and they play classic country music. I had just turned off the highway and on came “Whatever Happened To Randolph Scott?”. I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared-up a bit thinking of my Dad and those special times that we had together. I miss him terribly. I miss his sense of humor, his Dad jokes, his kindness, his huge heart, his ever-present smile, and the sheer joy of just being with him. I know this sounds silly, but I hope he gets to enjoy things like that red-hot spinning top in Heaven.

You Oughta Be In Pictures

            I had a craving last night. I just had to watch an old movie that I have known about since I can remember. It just so happened to have been a big hit movie the year I was born. The movie is “Blackboard Jungle”. Well, I went into look for it in my extensive DVD/Blu-Ray library and before I could find it, I came up another movie from the year I was born. It’s called “The Desperate Hours”. I had about decided to watch it instead when another movie caught my eye. No, it wasn’t from the year I was born. I was a whopping 4-years-old when “Anatomy of a Murder” came out. I ended up watching it after all. It didn’t end there though. After watching James Stewart as a humble country lawyer on the Michigan Peninsula defend Ben Gazzara for murder (and very much enjoying the lovely Lee Remick) I decided that I needed a little bit more of James Stewart and the 50’s. So, I made the second feature the hugely successful movie, “Vertigo”, from 1958. All of these movies are terrific, and I put hold them all in high esteem. But watching “Vertigo” is what inspired this blog entry. Why? For one thing, it was the only one in color. Don’t get me wrong. I love black and white movies and especially the film noir genre. But there was something special about seeing the period of time when I was a toddler in living color.

            The clothes and especially the cars showed reminded me of what it was like back then. Seeing them in color instead of black and white certainly helped. Barbara Bel Geddes who would 20 years later be famous as the matriarch on the TV series “Dallas” was the trusted friend of James Stewart. Oh, she was in love with him too, but he didn’t seem to notice. He was too smitten with Kim Novak. Speaking of which, did she fall in the same vat of goo that The Joker did or what? The architecture of the buildings, the Golden Gate Bridge at only 20 years old that year, Alcatraz was still a working prison, and some of the minor little things such as the telephones (just the handset on one was a lethal weapon) all reminded me of how things were when I was very little.

            Now, I didn’t get to San Francisco for the first time until 2004. So, I never saw that city in the 50’s. But the cars, clothes, buildings, and telephones I remember. Phones were pretty much all black and very heavy. The cords were usually short, and our houses all had a phone nook in the hallway where calls were made and received. People didn’t spend much time on a phone call in those days. If it rang at all, then it was a source of excitement for whoever was home. We had party lines too. Most men wore suits with hats that matched, and the women wore dress hats and gloves. I remember my mother had several hats and sets of gloves in the top of her closet. There were these guys who delivered milk to your house. They had a uniform that was usually white and wore a cap (not a baseball cap, but more like a military cap). The wet head was alive and well for men. My father used Jerris Hair Oil. He always had a little wave in his hair in the front for style. It seemed most adults smoked in those days and were blissfully unaware that they were willingly and greatly enhancing the chances of heart disease and cancer in their future.

            The TV families in the 50’s mostly had nicer homes than the majority of Americans, but then that was part of the appeal of the show for us. Most families that owned a home lived in a 2-3 bedroom wood frame house with 1 bathroom and a 1 car garage. We had a toaster, stove, washer and refrigerator, but dryers and dishwashers were for the well-to-do. June Cleaver was probably the only housewife who vacuumed in a nice dress wearing a string of pearls. Two-story brick homes were for rich people. To prove a point, my uncle was an attorney and they lived much nicer than we did yet they didn’t have two cars, a brick house, and such things until of the 60’s.

            But we had a great life. Oh, there was the atomic bomb fears and once in a while you would hear about someone being murdered, but for the most part we didn’t have the everyday violence and global fears of viruses that would lead to zombies in the street. That was 10 years later.

            Watching those movies last night made me a little homesick for those days. I am sure that a lot of my homesickness was because I didn’t have the weight of the world on my shoulders that we gain as adults. I’m realistic enough to realize that not all things from today are worse than back then. I have a nice car that will likely last me 150,000 miles with little problems. A car was about ready to be traded in when it got to 50,000 miles back then. But then we didn’t drive as much as we do now. I think our 1961 Ford Galaxie 500 was a demo that my parents bought with about 2,000 miles on it. It was ready for trading in by 1967 and had about 55,000 miles on it. The rear end went out on it and Dad put a used one in it just to keep it running and traded for a new car shortly thereafter. Cars are most definitely made better today. They just lack style. They seem to all look the same. I don’t drink beer, but it seems that beer is about the only drink in a convenience store that is sold in a glass bottle. Soft drinks aren’t unless they’re from Mexico and that stuff is just nasty. People still smoke and chew and now they vape. Every generation has to learn for itself, I suppose. Baseball and football uniforms have sure changed. As for football, I think it’s a good thing. It’s safer for the players even if they do still seem to get injured a lot. Baseball uniforms are not as baggy as they once were and much more colorful. I heard that one team is going to have a trashcan lid patch sewn onto the right arm of the jersey. Not sure what that’s all about.

            Well, I guess I’ve said enough about this subject for one entry. The truth is there’s a part of me that really misses the way things were back then and then there’s a part of me that is glad it isn’t like that. Frankly, I never liked wearing a suit and tie to work during the years that I was required to. I don’t work now, but in those old days’ men wore suits just to go to indoor movies. I guess what I do miss is the way people were in general. It was kinder, gentler, and decent society to live in as opposed to today. And, since it was movies that started this blog entry, then I might mention that those movies are great and classic by any standard yet none of them had crude language, nudity, or excessive violence. Which proves it’s not necessary to have those things to make a great movie. I like seeing the way things were when I was a kid. Especially the period of time when I was alive but was too young to remember. It’s a window into how things were. It’s sort of like knowing something happened, you didn’t see it yourself when it happened, but there’s a film that caught it all and you can watch it knowing you were just around the corner, Metaphorically speaking. Whatever your age is, go find a movie that was set in the contemporary time when you were too young to remember and see how things were. I’ll leave you with a few suggestions. If you were born:

(1960-1964) – “Fate Is The Hunter” (1964), “Experiment In Terror” (1962), and “Take Her, She’s Mine” (1963)

(1965-1969) – “That Darn Cat” (1965), “Bullitt” (1968), and “In The Heat of The Night” (1967”

(1970-1974) – “The French Connection” (1971), “What’s Up Doc” (1972) and “McQ” (1974)

(1975-1979) – “Three Days of the Condor” (1975), “The Goodbye Girl” (1977), and “Coma” (1978)

(1980-1984) – “Caddyshack” (1980), “My Bodyguard” (1981), and “Starman” (1984

(1985-1989) – “Witness” (1985), “Batteries Not Included” (1987), and “The Dead Pool” (1988)

            That’s as far as I’ll go. You get the idea. Until next time, keep singing “You oughta be in pictures.”

Why I Write This Blog

            I’ve met a handful of people who have claimed that they have no regrets whatsoever about their life. Well, from my perspective that’s just nuts. Everyone has regrets. That said, you shouldn’t spend your life dwelling on your regrets and wishing that you could change things. You can’t. However, you can start doing things that will enrich your life and avoid having a few regrets that you don’t have to have. I heard someone say recently that while most people regret something that they did, it is the things that they didn’t do that they regret the most. He also said that cemeteries are filled with unwritten books, unwritten songs, college degrees never achieved, and basically dreams never attempted. I’ll add to that by saying that the longer we live, the more likely we are to do one of two things. We either spend our days fretting over something we did or didn’t do, or we push that heavy weight aside and start doing things that fulfill and enrich our lives as well as a great many others who we come into contact with.

            Please don’t take the next paragraph as me bragging or anything of that sort. Trust me when I say that I have missed the mark on a great many things and there are things that I always wanted to do, but simply won’t be able to. It might be due to money, time, or physical limitations that I haven’t always had. I realized at the age of 22 that I should have gone to college. I was working dead-end jobs and found it impossible to be able to do a great many things that I wanted to do without that degree. It was a different time too. College degrees today don’t carry the same weight that they did back then. I made a half-hearted attempt that summer and earned a whopping 6 hours of college credit. But by the fall I gave up that dream. It just seemed too hard. That was a defeatist frame of mind. By the time I was 30, I had two small children who deserved better than what I could provide in a dead-end job. And, time was ticking. At the age of 31 I decided to go to college and get that degree. I won’t go into all that it took, but let’s just say it was 4 years of sacrifice, no sleep, working at odd hours, and at times it seemed to be unattainable. But I persevered and I graduated from college with two degrees and a scholarship to pay for going for a master’s degree. But by that time, I was 35 and I spent enough time doing schoolwork and odd jobs instead of spending time with my kids. So, I decided not to go for the master’s degree. I do not regret that decision.

            I truly learned a great many things by getting my degrees. I learned how to stick with something. I greatly improved my writing skills and vocabulary. The world became my classroom. And perhaps the best thing that I got out of that time was confidence. I used to walk around thinking that I was a failure because I didn’t have a degree. There would be several couples at church our age and when we got together for social functions I felt like the poor relations. They all talked about when they went to college and then about the great jobs that they had. They were able to own a car that wasn’t a junker. They actually were able to buy a house. I could only rent one and it was usually not the kind that made me proud. I wasn’t jealous at all. In fact, I blamed myself for being a failure. But I was able to rise above that. I might add that there are plenty of people who have done quite well and never attended college. I tip my hat to those people. They have gifts that I don’t possess. The point is I needed and wanted that college degree and I set my mind to achieving it.

            I know this is going to sound trite, but I have always tried to do the right thing. That’s not me bragging or me judging other people. It was just the way I was raised. I made some mistakes along the way and at times I didn’t live up to the standards that I wanted to live up to. It wasn’t because I was so good or thought I was so good. It was because I saw how doing certain things hurt other people and were just plain wrong. I didn’t want to hurt other people and there is that “still small voice” inside of me that nudges me (sometimes kicks me) when I start to veer off the road.

            Here’s my “never gonna happen” paragraph. I’m never going to see the Pyramids. I’m never going to visit the Holy Lands. I’m never going to own a classic 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1. I’m never going to live in a house that is a showplace. I’m not likely to ever run a footrace again. I will never again look as good as I did when I was young. The truth is none of those things really matter to me now. There was a time when I wanted to go see Egypt and the Holy Lands, but now it sounds like a good way to wear myself out. Besides, I just don’t feel comfortable about being in that part of the world today. As for the Mustang, it would likely be hard to get in and out of and taking a ride in one would probably cure me of that desire pretty quick. I don’t want an expensive, large, showplace of a house. It’s a lot to keep clean and looking top notch. I’m just fine with a nice comfortable 1400 square foot house as long as it has the normal amenities. You know, running water, bathrooms, a room for my studio/office, appliances, etc. There are plenty of people in this world who have never even seen some of those things. I’m truly blessed to live where I live.

            I always wanted to write a book. I started to write one several times but work and kids and a busy life always seemed to derail those attempts. But when I retired, I found myself with more time and a renewed interest in writing a book. So, I’ve written one now. I still need to finish the editing and then see about publishing the darn thing. I’ve already started a second book and I’ve written several short stories along the way. I’ve got one major book project that I’m doing a lot of research on before I get started on it. Writing has become my biggest passion these days. For a while it was my photography. I still love doing photography, but as I’m aging and my physical abilities have lessened, getting to some of the places that I wanted to photograph are leaning towards that “never gonna happen” paragraph. Back in 2006 I hiked through some pretty rough terrain (rated as expert on the map) just to get to a waterfall that is in an official wilderness area. Even then I was worn out by the time I got back to my car. It was a round-trip hike of 12 miles. Much of it was either going up a steep incline or down a steep decline and over big stones. A turn of the ankle would have spelled disaster. But I did it. I was literally sore for a week afterwards. I will never again be able to do that kind of a hike. Photos that I take these days tax my creativity. Now I must find interesting things to photograph that speak to the viewer but are not so inaccessible.

            I am compiling a retrospective of my life’s work in writing songs and as a recording artist as well. I have tapes going back 45 years that I am perusing, setting aside to edit and master, and generally getting ready to pass on to my family when I’m gone. I do have a few songs that still need to be recorded. That’s a project in my future as well. The reason I’m writing this blog entry is to tell you something very important. No matter what comes your way, how much your body deteriorates with age, or how weighted down with life you may be, DON’T GIVE UP! There’s a legacy with your name on it. Maybe you can’t do some of things that you wanted to do. So, do something else! Search for and find your passion. The life you are living is such a great gift no matter what has happened along the way. Just because I have some nerve damage in my legs and can’t run anymore doesn’t mean that I can’t walk. I can write, take photos, enjoy my grandchildren, read, dream, sing, play my guitar, spend time with Moe the Cat, and sit on the porch and be inspired by the animals as they stop by the hay meadow to graze. I know some people who spend most of their time sitting in front of a TV. What a waste. Leave your heirs something much more valuable than the things that you have or the money that you’ll leave. Leave them lifelong memories of who you were. Leave them a legacy of how you touched other lives. Maybe it’s not writing a book or photography or music. But it’s certainly just as important. If you enjoy wood working, then build something that becomes a treasured keepsake to your grandchildren. If you like to work on cars, then help other people make much needed repairs that they will remember helped them through a rough time. If you like to bake, then bake cakes that your loved ones will talk about long after you are gone. Leave your mark and make sure it’s a good and positive mark. Leave your legacy for all to know one thing if nothing else. You were here and you mattered.

A Soapbox and Making Memories

            I made the mistake of falling asleep in front of the TV. It was a mistake that I seem to be making often these days. The problem with it is that when I wake up a couple of hours later, I can’t get back to sleep to save my neck. So, I was channel surfing in the early a.m. hours and came upon a movie that I was not familiar with. I’m not going to tell you the name of the movie because it was a seriously upsetting movie to me and I wouldn’t pass it on to anyone else. What the movie did was portray realistically the problem of child trafficking. I am horrified by the estimated number of children that are abducted and sold to be sex slaves all over the world. The FBI estimates that there are approximately 100,000 children a year brought into or trafficked out of America. All of this got me to thinking about how truly different things are today compared to when I was a child.

            Parents today, the ones with any brains, can’t drop off their children at a movie theater to see a movie today by themselves. They can’t allow their children to roam the neighborhood and play with other children unless a trusted adult is watching them the whole time. Parents don’t have the security of knowing that whatever comes on their TV will be fit for their children to see. Morality is so warped today that a great many parents don’t think things that were so clearly not tolerated in my childhood are a problem for their children to see. Social media has taken America onto paths that are riddled with predators and dishonest businesses. I saw a news report this week about dating sites on the internet. I won’t name the company, but it’s a major player in that business, The company admits that fully 35% of the profiles on their site are in reality non-existent. Instead, they are a front for a company that posts a picture of an attractive person with a completely fictious profile. Why? To get your information. Let’s say you see one of these people and contact them via the site. What’s the first thing you do? You tell them all about yourself. Things you like, don’t like, eat, won’t eat, body type, religion, and a whole host of other things that you willingly provide thinking you’re going to meet this person. Of course, it’s set up so that the actual person monitoring that profile will have a reason not to want to meet you after all. But the company now has all that info including your email address. Suddenly, you start getting emails wanting to sell you this or that and it doesn’t occur to you that it’s all based on the info that you gave to them.

            In 1965, when I was 9 and 10 years old, I have no doubt that there were a few sick people out there. But it was very uncommon. My parents didn’t have to warn me about things because there just wasn’t anyone out there who spent their lives destroying the lives of children. From the time I was 8-years-old my parents would drop off me and my sister or me and a friend at the movie theater to watch a wholesome family-oriented movie. They were great movies too. Unfortunately, the same company that made those movies then has become greatly lowered its standards. I won’t name the company, but you probably can guess. In 1965 we might have gone to see a movie about a teenager and her cat. The cat was prone to prowling the neighborhood and getting into trouble. It was all good clean fun to watch. Today, that same company has put out movies marketed for kids that include homosexual behavior, bathroom (that’s what we always called it) humor, and over-the-top violence. Another series of movies that made billions of dollars and was geared for kids was all about the occult and witches and warlocks. Oh, we had our ghost stories back in the 60’s, but they were almost always funny and light-hearted.

            Now, before you get to thinking that I’m just an old fuddy-duddy, stop and think about what I’m saying. People under the age of about 50 never knew things the way that people my age did. By the time they can remember things were already in a tailspin. It started slow, but it’s full a whirlwind today. I can’t help but lay a lot of the blame at the feet of Hollywood. They’ll show anything today. Even PG movies have language and some skin that would never have been tolerated in my early years. I don’t recall hearing a 4-letter word in a movie until I was a teenager and it was talked about because of its rarity. And you know what? The words aren’t necessary. The skin isn’t necessary. Take the movie “Shenandoah” from 1965 for instance. A young couple got married, but before they could have a honeymoon, he had to immediately go off to war. Later in the movie he is rescued by his father-in-law and brother’s-in-laws. His wife is with them also. There’s a scene where they come to an abandoned cabin and decide to take shelter there overnight during a storm. The father goes into the bedroom and closes the door, and everyone can hear him moving furniture around and bumping things. He finally comes out and tells his daughter and son-in-law that he’s sorry it’s not any nicer than it is, but at least it will be private. The son-in-law picks up his bride, carries her across the threshold, and then the door closes. That’s all we see and that was all that was necessary. It may come as a surprise to some people out there, but there was a day when most people didn’t use cuss words. My parents would never have put up with it. Most parents back then were the same. I hear young parents today in stores and other public settings openly saying words that a child doesn’t need to hear.

            Well, I’ve gone and gotten on my soapbox in this entry. But I’m not sorry if it offends you because if it offends you, then you’re part of the problem. But I’m guessing that most of the people who read my blog every day are closer to feeling the way that I do. Notice that I didn’t even get into politics in this diatribe. That’s another issue altogether.

            But to end this on a positive note I’ll tell you what it was like when I was 9-years-old and went to the movie with my big sister. It was in the fall of 1964. We were huge fans of Hayley Mills. Her latest movie was a spy-thriller called “The Moon Spinners”. It is a wonderful movie and I have the DVD of it. On a Saturday about 1 o’clock my mother drove us to The Palace Theater in Bryan, Texas. She gave us each $1.25. The ticket price was 50 cents. We could buy a Coke for 25. cents, a bag of popcorn for 15. cents, and a candy bar for a dime. The extra quarter was so that we each had a little left over. Just in case. We excitedly bought our tickets, went into the theater to find good seats, and then took turns saving our seats while the other went to the concession stand. There was always a couple of cartoons and previews of new movies about to be released, but then the movie started. It was 2 hours of thrills watching Hayley and her aunt on vacation in Greece navigate through helping a young man escape from some bad guys. The cinematography was fantastic as was the exotic locale. When the movie was over my sister would call Mom and let her know the movie was over. We would go outside and window shop near the theater while we waited for Mom to show up. Soon, she was there, and we piled into the car and told her all about the movie. I think that she must have truly enjoyed seeing us have such a good time. She didn’t have to worry about us not being safe at the theater. I treasure those days not only for the fun times, but for the blessing of living during a time of innocence. Here it is 5 a.m. now and I’m itching to get that DVD and watch it now. I’ll end by saying that when I take my granddaughters to either see a movie or out to a park or riding around up hear in the country, I tell them that we are “making memories”. They like that and when they see me and we head out to get a snow cone in the summer or go to a park somewhere they’ll pipe up and say, “We’re making memories, Paw-Paw!”

The Lavender Carnation - Happy Valentine's Day!

            When I was growing up Valentine’s Day was celebrated in our schools. All through elementary school we would prepare Valentine’s cards for everybody in our class. Then on the day itself we would tape a brown paper bag to the front of our desk, and everyone would go around and put the cards in the bag per person. It was a big day for us. I always enjoyed reading the cards after getting home that day. The messages were typical and certainly age appropriate. Starting in junior high there was a new thing going on. I forget now who arranged it all, but you could purchase carnations for someone to be given to them on Valentine’s Day. I didn’t buy or receive any carnations in 6th and 7th grade. For one thing, guys just didn’t give other guys a carnation. Girls, on the other hand, could do that and it was completely OK. I didn’t have any secret admirers in those years that would purchase a carnation for me. Boo-hoo!

            But 8th grade was a new experience for me. I may not have been the most popular boy in school, but I had come out of my shell and I was enjoying the attention of some of the girls in school. I still hadn’t even held a girl’s hand yet, but I seemed to have taken to flirting with the opposite sex with ease. In January of 1970 they announced the annual carnation sale. I purchased three carnations to be given to a certain girl that I was infatuated with. But I requested that they be given from a “secret admirer”. The last thing I wanted was to give carnations to this girl and then it somehow or another backfire on me. Backfire as in her laughing at me. I had no expectations of receiving any carnations. I just didn’t think there were any girls who were interested in me.

            It was Valentine’s Day of 1970 and I was more than ready to get to school. I was in two classes with the girl that I had bought the carnations for and I couldn’t wait to see her reaction. I sang the then current hit song, “Ma Belle Amie” by The Tee Set all the way to school that day. I think it was during 4th period that the carnations were scheduled to be delivered. I had English in that period and that certain girl was in my class. I dressed in my coolest outfit that day. I sported a purple button-down shirt with flared sleeves (all the rage), a pair of gray bell bottom pants, and a new pair of Hush Puppies loafers. I got a lot of comments on my garb that day. Mission accomplished!

            The bell rang at lunch and I made my way to my English class. I sat down at my desk and noticed that there was excitement in the air. The carnations would soon be delivered. Finally, about 15 minutes into class the kids who did the delivering of the carnations came into the room with bunches of carnations. I looked over at that girl and she was receiving the three carnations that I had sent. Well, I hoped it was the three from me. She could have gotten more. I deviously asked her who were they from. She had a puzzled look on her face and said, “It’s says secret admirer”.

            I coyly said, “Well, I’m not surprised that you have a secret admirer. Who do you think it is?”

            She said, “I have no idea! But they are beautiful.”

            There was a pink carnation, a red carnation, and a lavender carnation. I had recalled her saying that lavender was her favorite color. Thus, I made sure she got a carnation of that color.

            “I can’t believe one of the carnations is lavender, my favorite color!” she said. “It must be someone who knows me.”

             I was so enthralled with watching her and talking to her about the carnations that I didn’t realize a student was standing there holding a half dozen carnations to give to me. I couldn’t believe it. I looked at the card and now I knew how that girl felt. It said, “Secret Admirer”. Three of the carnations were red and three were white. I didn’t care about the color though. I was just thrilled to get any. Now it was her turn to ask me who they were from and I told her. She laughed and said something about that secret admirer “getting around.” I was dumbfounded by the gesture. Who liked me enough to give me 6 carnations? I just couldn’t believe it.

             Well, Valentine’s Day came and went and soon it was the beginning of April. That certain girl and I had developed a boy-girl friendship. I walked her to classes, we ate lunch together every day, and I would call her on the phone. We would talk until one or the other of our parents told us to get off the phone. By the end of the school year, we were boyfriend and girlfriend. We went to the 8th grade dance together and started holding hands. She was my first girlfriend.

             One day in June I went over to her house to play records and watch a movie on TV. Her older sister was our chaperone! We were listening to a record when she said to me, “I have a confession to make.” I feared the worst. I feared she was going to tell me she liked another boy. Then she said, “Remember those carnations that you got on Valentine’s Day? Well, I was the secret admirer. I sent them to you.” She couldn’t have been more beautiful to me than she was at that moment.

             “Well, I have a confession to make too.” I said. “I was your secret admirer and sent you those three carnations.” Her eyes flew open and then and we both laughed. It was a sweet moment in my innocent days of youth.

             We continued to be a couple for another few months, but after high school got going and we were growing up, we parted ways. Mainly because our interests were taking us down different pathways. I always think of that girl on Valentine’s Day though. That was 50 years ago today. Half a century! I haven’t seen her since running into her when we were both in our early 20’s and both married by then. I hope and pray that she has had a good life. If I could, I would send her a lavender carnation in honor of that day 50 years ago. Hopefully, she has a husband who does much more than that for her today.

The Last Ride of The Trio

            I recently wrote a blog entry about me and my old duet partner and friend, Lonny Schonfeld. I wanted to write about something related to that friendship and our duet partnership. As I mentioned in that earlier blog, Lonny and I had begun our duet in November of 1972. At the time, we were strapped for cash and undecided on exactly how we would embark on our adventure. Lonny owned an old Gibson Melody Maker electric guitar, but no amplifier. A decent amplifier would cost him around $300-$500. I owned two acoustic guitars and if we “went electric” then it meant I would have to buy an electric guitar and an amplifier as well as we would have to expand with a drummer. I did own an old “no-name” bass guitar and a 2x15” bass speaker cabinet with a 100-watt Bogen amplifier. So, it meant that our “duet” would have to become a band and we would need to add a lead guitarist (if I was to play bass) as well as a drummer. We experimented with this to some degree for a couple of months while performing as a duet using my two acoustic guitars. I’ll expound on those in just a minute. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we preferred two acoustic guitars and just doing the duet as opposed to an electric band. So, by the time the first of March 1973 came around we had decided to go the route of an acoustic duet. Now, to those two acoustic guitars that I had. They were birds of the same kind. Cheap cheap cheap! One was another “no-name” guitar. I had gotten it in the summer of 1972 from a pawn shop. It literally didn’t have the name of the maker on it. I am positive it was a cheap knock-off from Japan or Mexico. The sound was tinny, and the action was poor. But it had only cost about $50 when I got it. The other acoustic guitar was a 1970 Sears Silvertone that probably had cost my parents about the same amount at Christmas 1970. The fact of the matter was that if Lonny and I were going to pursue the acoustic duet route, then we were going to need better guitars.

            I had started to work at the Oak Village Theater in late January of 1973. So, I was saving my money for a better guitar and my first car. But it was clear I would need the guitar quicker than I could save enough money. I’ll get to that in just a moment. Lonny made the decision to sell his Gibson Melody Maker and use the money to buy a good acoustic 6-string. He made a deal with a local music store and traded even for a new Alvarez 6-string with a hard-shell case. The guitar was quite nice with great tone, smooth action, and it even had gold Grover tuners. We were halfway there.

            On more than one occasion over the decades since then Lonny and I have talked about how my father was so supported of us and our musical endeavors. We didn’t actually realize how much a part of our dream he was. We’ve talked a lot about how the 18-month period of time from November 1972 through June of 1974 was very special. It was exciting, a lot of action going on, and we shared experiences that only the two of us have memories of. But the truth is, my father was there for much of it. When we start to reminisce about those days, we almost always realize how much my father was a part of it. His encouragement was paramount, but he also provided his experience and such mundane things as his “big ole long drink of water”, as he called it, 1972 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon. On several occasions he provided transportation in that car for us and all of our equipment. It held not only our guitars, but the new Peavey P.A. system that we purchased in the summer of 1973 that included microphone stands and microphones. We used it to haul our equipment to more than one audition or performance. Dad was even there for us when we had car trouble on the freeway on the east side of Houston. He dropped what he was doing, arranged for a tow truck to come get my car, drove 25 miles to pick us up, and treated us to dinner at a Denny’s on the way home.

            So, the first of March rolled around and I sheepishly approached my Dad about a money problem. I explained the guitar situation to him and asked if he would co-sign with me for a loan through Evans Music City on a new guitar. He knew the owner of the store and took care of their pianos. I told him that I would be able to pay off the loan early by saving my money at my job. Dad didn’t bat an eye and said, “When do you want to go to Evans?” Well, in those days’ stores closed at 6 p.m. and by the time I could get home from school we would barely have time to drive over to Evans and shop for a guitar. No problem for Dad. He wrote me a note allowing me to leave school during the middle of the day. He came to the school and pick me and Lonny up about 10:00 a.m. and off we went to Evans Music in that Ford station wagon. It was like we were a trio instead of a duet.

            We got to Evans and I started to try out different guitars. I had saved $100 to put down on one. Our “sound” in those days included me playing a 12-string guitar. I’ve had some people who knew who I was at school in those days come up to me years later at a class reunion and say, “You were that 12-string guy!” So, as I walked around looking at the guitars and trying them out, I came to “the” 12-string. It was an Alvarez model 5068. I still have the receipt for it. The cost? Well, with hard shell case it was going to be nearly $400. That doesn’t sound like much, but as per the official calculator for how much buying power that would be today it was about $2,075! It turns out that the guitar was hand made by a world-renowned luthier. Well, I gulped at the price, but I fell in love with that guitar the minute I took it off the wall. Just the feel of the neck in my hand before I even played a note was something special. It didn’t take long for me to say, “This is the one.” Dad looked at the price tag and I think he might have turned a little green around the gills, but that didn’t stop him from helping me out. We set down with the salesman and Dad co-signed the loan with a balance of $315 after taxes and interest on the loan. He gave me his best “Dad look” and said, “Now son, you know if you fail to pay this, then I’ll have to and if that happens, then the guitar is mine!” Well, that was only fair, but I was never going to let that happen. I can still smell the new smell of the inside of that hard-shell case, gold in color, as the salesman put the Alvarez inside of it and closed up the case.

            Dad drove us back to school, but not without treating us to lunch first, and when I got out of the Ford to go back in school and he drove off with that guitar in his car it was like I was saying goodbye to my girlfriend. Yea, silly it seems now, but I was just 17 and you know what I mean? Lonny and I were set. We had a coffeehouse performance coming up in a week and some other performances in the works. We couldn’t wait to get to my house that night to practice with our new guitars. I remember Dad standing in the hallway listening to us and a great big smile on his face. I guess I should tell you that even though my monthly payment for the guitar was only $26 a month and I had a year to pay it, I paid if off by that July. We even had earned enough money to buy that P.A. system by then too.

            We played a significant amount of time in an Anthology performance in April that year and were the featured performers by opening the show and then performing 6 songs in our own part of the program. I’ve attached a photo taken by the school newspaper photographer of that performance. I’m facing the camera (but my face is somewhat blocked by my microphone) while Lonny’s profile is captured. The lighting was perfect. I’ve also attached a photo showing that guitar on the wall at Evans Music.

Dad had also been associated with the V.A. hospital in Houston. For one thing, he himself had been a patient there back when I was a baby after he was in a bad car accident. He got to know the event planners and such and took care of the pianos at the hospital. Dad had been telling the man in charge of performances that were held at the hospital auditorium about me and Lonny and the guy invited us to come out and play on a Saturday evening in April. It was a huge auditorium and when we got there we were immediately scared to death at the size of the crowd. We were used to an audience of 50 or so people at small coffeehouses. We wanted to do the performance as a practice for the upcoming Anthology performance. But we had no idea that in reality we would be playing for a great many more people at the V.A. than at Anthology ’73. There was an audience that night of about 2000 people. Our veterans, heroes all, many of them wheeled in on gurneys to watch us sing, were amazing and so inspiring. Remember, a lot of these veterans were just back from Vietnam. Of course, we had gone there with my Dad in that Ford. It wasn’t until years later that I learned something from my Dad about that night. It has come to mean something special to me. There was a certain song that we did that I played lead guitar on and it was a somewhat difficult bit of guitar playing and even more so on a 12-string guitar. Dad was sitting out in the audience and as I was navigating through that guitar solo a man sitting next to Dad remarked, “Look at that kid go on that 12-string! That boy’s good!” Well, Dad turned to the man, a stranger to Dad, and beamed with pride when he told him that the kid playing the 12-string was his son.

            The thing that both Lonny and I came to realize as the years passed was that often times Dad was the only one of our parents in attendance when we made a performance. When we got our first decent paying gig at a Steak-n-Ale restaurant in January of 1974 Dad surprised us by showing up just to hear us and see us playing. It came to mean a lot to us how much support we got from Dad and we realized too that he was part of that golden time period for us.

            Fast forward to June 14, 2016. I had told Lonny on the phone that Dad wasn’t doing well in hospice in Palestine, Texas. Dad was 93-years-old, suffered from congestive heart failure, and had lost his left leg due to peripheral artery disease two months before. We arranged to meet at the facility there on that day. I brought Mom with me. We spent some time in Dad’s room, but Dad was not able to talk. His time was near. Lonny, Mom, and I went out to lunch and then came back for a little while to Dad’s room. We weren’t sure just how much he was aware of at the time, but then as we all prepared to leave, with each of us saying our goodbyes to Dad. My mother remarked later that even on his death bed his hand grip was like a vice when she took his hand and leaned over and kissed his forehead. I remember watching as Lonny took Dad’s hand and said some words of encouragement and Dad tried to reply but was just unable to. The hospice nurse told us that Dad probably would not last another 3 days. I bent down and kissed his cheek and then I whispered in his ear. I said, “Dad, I’ll take care of Mama. You can count on me. Do what you need to do and it’s OK to go if you need to go.” For just a second he opened his eyes and we made eye contact and I knew he understood.

            Lonny went back home to Dallas and I drove Mom to their home in Trinity, Texas. I was outside my house around 7 o’clock that evening when my cell phone rang. It was the hospice nurse and she told me that Dad had passed away. I didn’t want to tell Mom on the phone, so I decided to drive over to her house. On the way I made two phone calls. First, I called my sister Debbie to let her know. She would call our sister Barbara to let her know. They were sisters after all and closer. I also called Lonny and let him know. Thinking about it now, I realize it was only fitting that Lonny was there and got to say goodbye to Dad. In many ways, Lonny had been like another son to Dad. I have no doubt that Lonny could regale you with some of my Dad’s old jokes and pranks. And, that was the last ride of our Trio.

 

 

Lonny and I performing at Anthology '73 on April 27, 1973

 

The 1973 Alvarez model 5068 12-string guitar

My father circa 1973.

Hey, Brainless!

            Scientist and medical researchers say that a teenager’s brain isn’t fully developed. In fact, the consensus is that a human brain doesn’t become fully developed until approximately the age of 25. Now, if you had told me that when I was a teenager I would have been offended and I would have scoffed at the very idea of something so obviously prejudiced. But as I grew older, I came to the realization that there might be something to the studies showing these results.

            I have made it no secret that I possess a very good memory. I can only hope that it stays that way until I die. The thing about those studies that makes me know that they are true is that I clearly remember some of the things that I did as a teenager and I now realize how foolish and dangerous they were. What I’m about to disclose may surprise you. I would never have admitted these things as long as my parents were alive. Why? Because it would have likely caused them unnecessary stress despite the events having been decades ago.

            I’ve written about my high school girlfriend quite a bit. I’m betting she doesn’t remember some of these things, but then again, she might remember them, but would never admit to it. No, it’s not something nasty or anything like that. It’s just we were so clearly doing some dangerous things that could have proved disastrous. I was 17-years-old and she was 16-years-old. Her parents were very strict and did not allow her to be out past 10 o’clock on Friday or Saturday night dates. In the beginning, they only allowed us to go out on double dates. I certainly understand how they felt and why. In the early part of 1973 we did something, on several occasions, that I now shiver at the thought of doing. It was so downright stupid and dangerous but at the time I barely thought of it as anything other than normal. I can only plead now that my brain was not fully developed. Seriously.

            It was all so well planned. I think that characters like James Bond must not have fully developed brains. I literally had no fear in doing what we did. I didn’t own my own car yet, but I did have my own set of keys to my mother’s car. It would be a school night when we made our rendezvous. I would wait for my parents to get good and sound asleep. I would slip out the back door, get in the 1967 Chevy Nova, start it up and head for my girlfriend’s house. It’s not as though it was close either. It was about 10 miles away. Not exactly right around the corner. It meant driving to I-10 from our neighborhood, getting on the freeway, driving 6 exits, and then drive to her street. It was a cul de sac. So, it wasn’t like I could just drive past her house and meet up with her. No, I had to drive down to the turn around and come back up the street and park on the opposite side of the street a few doors down. Any resident could have easily seen me, wondered who was parking in front of their house, and called the police. Fortunately, that never happened.

            I would quietly open the car door and no interior lights came on because I had unscrewed the overhead light bulb. I would walk across the street and up to her driveway and then to the rear of her house. I would wait there for her to sneak out of her back door. We would skip across the lawn and the street and get in my mother’s car. I would start it up and off we would go. Sometimes it was simply a drive down to a 24-hour Jack-In-The-Box to get a cola. It was always about the thrill of being able to see each other. We would sometimes park on one of the other streets in her neighborhood and just talk. Sometimes we would be gone a couple of hours. I remember that one time we drove all the way back to my house so that I could retrieve my wallet that I had forgotten! What if we had been pulled over by the police? What if we had a minor fender bender? What if some creepazoid had tried to harm us? This was just before the mass murders in Houston were revealed. Murders of teenagers. What if a friend of her parents had been out late and saw us? Frankly, the what ifs could go on and on. We could have been physically harmed. We could have simply been caught if her parents had awoken and not found her in her room at home. It would have been the end of us. I can’t say as I would have blamed them if they forbid us to see each other. But strange as it may sound to say, God was looking out for us. I choose to believe that rather than to believe in dumb luck.

            These middle-of-the-night forays ended by the summer. It started to soak in that we were truly running a terrible risk. I look back on those early days of 1973 and those nights of sneaking out and I shiver. Perhaps partly because of the way things are today, but mostly because we just weren’t thinking about what we were doing. Oh, I can laugh about it now, but deep down inside I can’t believe that I put not only myself, but someone that I cared a great deal about, in harm’s way. I would never do that now. Even after we broke up and I eventually met my wife to be, I still made some bad decisions. Getting married at 21 and my wife being 18 comes to mind. We were simply not ready for what was coming, but then we survived.

            I look back on my teenage years with mixed emotions. I had a lot of fun in those days. I was in the peak of physical condition and rarely got sick. I learned a lot during those years. I also remember some of the dumb things that I did and somehow got away with. I think about all the people in my life during those years that could have been hurt by my reckless behavior. I am so very glad that I was spared what could have been terrible things happen to me. I have to thank God for his allowing me to be spared and for watching over me while my brain was not yet fully developed. If you have teenage kids today, then don’t worry about them hating you if you are a little too strict. They’ll understand one day and be thankful for you more than you will ever know. Pray for your kids daily. Pray with your kids daily. Help their brains to develop and explain to them in an age appropriate manner just how dangerous our world and our society is today. Arm them with the knowledge that they need to know. Love them with all your heart and make sure that they understand that if you’re a little hard on them at times it’s out of love that your decisions are made.

 

 

Stout & Schonfeld - February 6, 1975

            In November of 1972 a mutual friend introduced me to a fellow student at Spring Branch High School in Houston, Texas. His name is Lonny Schonfeld. At the time, I was 17 and Lonny was a month away from his 17th birthday. We found that we had many things in common. We both loved the music of The Beatles as well as the music from 1955-1968 (we also liked a lot of music from after 1968, but unlike many of our contemporaries we were not into the hard rock that had taken over), we both played guitar and sang, and we both had a sense of humor inspired by the antics of The Beatles in “A Hard Day’s Night”. There were also some things that we were polar opposites on. Lonny had been born in Brooklyn, New York and spent the first 13 years of his life in New York. I am a native-born Texan and spent a significant part of my early life in a small Texas town and visiting my grandparents on their farm in East Texas. I don’t think I have to explain how different all of that could be. I was raised as a Christian and attended church regularly. Lonny was raised in a Jewish household and raised in the traditions of such. I believe that we had more conflict stemming from where we were raised than our religious upbringing.

            We also had one other major thing in common. There was a group of guys that we both knew who were in different bands. Most of the band members acted as if they were better than either Lonny or me. We were outcasts in a way. We weren’t good enough to be in their bands or so they lead us to believe. But suddenly we had a like-minded friend and confidant, and, in a way, we were ready to take on the world as a duet. Or so we thought. We initially tried to put together a band but finding a drummer always seemed beyond us. We knew some good drummers, but they were either already in bands or they had problems that we didn’t want to deal with. These mainly being drugs and unreliability. So, we opted to be a duet. We were inspired by Simon and Garfunkel, Loggins and Messina, Seals and Crofts, and even The Everly Brothers. We started to practice non-stop. We were a little rough at first, but by the spring of 1973 we had garnered a name and following at our school by performing in programs and coffeehouses. We paid $300 to go into a studio of a friend of my Dad’s and record two songs that we would have pressed as a single. This was in June of 1973. Of course, it was just the two of us on an old 4-track recorder and the single was never released to the world. Probably a good thing! But we did have 300 copies to sell at places that we played. But we were progressing at light speed and that single was soon deemed inferior to our burgeoning abilities. I still have a few copies of that record.

            In October of 1973 we were hired to play at a small bar near where we lived. Lonny wasn’t even old enough to legally be in the bar, but that didn’t stop us. We figured “Sam’s Club”, the bar, was like The Beatles time in the Hamburg, Germany clubs. We couldn’t have been more wrong. For one thing, we were never going to do drugs. The gig lasted 3 weeks and that was that. But it was good experience. We learned some about performing for a paying crowd instead of a group of kids at school. Our abilities were sharpened. This would continue.

            In January of 1974 we auditioned for and were hired to be the entertainment on Sunday and Monday nights at a nice restaurant and club. At the same time, we were contracted via a booking agent to play Friday and Saturday nights at a club right on the beach in Surfside, Texas. Playing these dates helped to sharpen us even more. In March of 1974 we were playing a two-week engagement at a Holiday Inn in downtown Houston when that booking agent we had known a few months before happened into the club. After listening to us perform a set we spoke to him briefly and his comment was, “Somebody’s been practicing”. Later that month via an old friend of my then brother-in-law’s who was a successful working singer and musician, we were introduced to his agent. His agent was the largest and most successful agent in South Texas. We were taken on and booked to perform at some private parties for the rich folk in River Oaks and were hired to be the entertainment at a restaurant called “Cellar Door”. Then I got a visit from that old friend of my brother-in-law’s. It seemed as though the agency wanted me, but not Lonny. I was shocked. It was, as Marty McFly used to say, “heavy”. I thought we sounded better than ever, but there was an element at the agency that didn’t want Lonny. It was my first experience with blatant prejudice, but I didn’t recognize it for what it was at the time. Well, it couldn’t help but a rift between me and Lonny. In the end, I told the agent that we were a package deal. But the damage was done. Lonny was hurt and also suffered a loss of confidence. Frankly, it would have been better if they had just come out and said, “We don’t want him around because he’s a Jew.” It wouldn’t have been as hard to deal with for either of us.

            We decided to break-up the duet and performed one last time at school near the end of our senior year. We had gotten so much better and the kids actually gave us a standing ovation. Of course, this made us rethink breaking up the duet. But by June things were different. We were no longer being booked by that agent. Lonny’s parents had split-up and his mother and siblings moved to the Dallas area. Lonny decided to move up there too.

            But that’s not the “rest of the story”. Lonny had joined the Air Force in December of 1974 but was injured in boot camp and was Honorably Discharged. I was wanting to get back to playing after working “regular” jobs. In early January of 1975 Lonny came to live with me and my parents while we got the duet going again. We had learned a few things along the way, and we felt like we could get somewhere. We got down to a lot of practicing. Backing up a little, I had started writing songs when I was 14. By the time I met Lonny I had a strong desire to write songs. We wrote a few songs together, but for the most part one or the other of us would write a song and then we would call it a “Stout & Schonfeld” composition. This was inspired by the Lennon and McCartney way of doing things. Back in early 1974 I wrote a song called “Loneliness” when we were playing at that club down in Surfside. It became a “Stout & Schonfeld” song. Over the next couple of months, we would stay up late in my parent’s den and write songs together. Some of these included, “Baby With You”, “Your Heart Will Bleed”, “We’re All Through”, “Could It Be”, and “Life”.

            In the fall of 1974, I wrote a couple of songs that we would put into our repertoire when we got back together in January of 1975. These were, “It’s Been So Long” and “The Ax-Wax Museum”. Around February 1st, 1975 Lonny came to me and showed me a song that he had been writing. He had the music down, the first verse, and a great chorus with a hook, but had gotten stumped for the other verses. He asked me to write the lyrics for some other verses which I immediately did.

            On February 6, 1975 we decided to make some recordings on a borrowed tape recorder of our own songs. Nothing fancy, it was supposed to just be a means by which to put on tape the songs and mail a copy to ourselves for a poor man’s copyright. It was just a stereo deck and no overdubs, or such were done. We did the recording in my parent’s den using two cheap microphones, one placed for our vocals and the other for our guitars. It was just us live playing those songs. We didn’t even care if the performances were perfect. We just wanted the songs recorded for the copyright. That day we recorded the following songs one after the other, “She’s My Lady”, “Baby With You”, “Loneliness”, “Your Heart Will Bleed”, “It’s Been So Long”, “The Ax-Wax Museum”, “Could It Be”, “Life”, and “Alice”. It was just us and our acoustic guitars. There was a point at which we realized that we had failed to state the date of the recording. That’s when I said on tape that the songs were for a copyright and that the date was February 6th. I failed to mention 1975 and Lonny chimed in with that part.

            As much as I hate to admit it, I recorded over portions of that tape. Too cheap to buy new tape I suppose. But some of the songs survived and portions of a couple survived. I just went through all my old reel to reel tapes going back 47 years and I found that tape. I transferred the recordings to my computer and have only altered them by adjusting the eq and balance. Otherwise, the recordings are exactly what we did that day. I have included a collage of 4 of the songs recorded that day in a slideshow below. The pictures are all from around 1974-1975. “She’s My Lady” survived intact as did “Loneliness”. Portions of “Could It Be” and “Life” survived as well. Unfortunately, “It’s Been So Long”, “The Ax Wax Museum”, “Your Heart Will Bleed”, and “Alice” did not survive. A portion of “Baby With You” survived, but it is so cut up that I did not have anything to work with.

            Why have I done all this? Well, February 6th will be 45 years to the day since those two 19-year-old kids recorded some songs. Within two weeks events occurred that ended our duet for good. Lonny moved back to the Dallas area. But we remained close friends. We didn’t always get along and at times were like two real brothers arguing with each other and getting mad. But also, like brothers, we were family. We rejoiced in each other’s successes, got together and commiserated over our failures, and watched as we each had kids of our own born, raised, and now all adults in their mid to late 30’s. Lonny lost his wife in 2010 and I was there for support. I got divorced in 2003 and Lonny was there for support. Now we’re both 64 and by year’s end will be on Medicare. We’ve gone from two teenagers to two old men! Lonny is now a successful radio personality with a base of operation in the Dallas area. I’m retired but write and enjoy photography and music still. Life has indeed been a long and winding road, but that can be said for anyone. I’m glad for the experiences that Lonny and I shared. Not only those from when we were young, but those along the way. If you’re interested in hearing what two 19-year-old kids sounded like live 45 years ago, then take a little time and watch the slideshow. If not, then at least remember to cherish yesterday, live today, and dream of tomorrow.

https://youtu.be/xsKute3iwqw

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