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James R. Stout

Sojourns

The Well

            My grandparents got married in 1921. Their wedding gift (my mother called it a bribe) from my grandfather’s parents was a piece of land that was part of my great-grandparent’s farm. It would be quite a gift by today’s standards and to tell the truth it was quite a gift by those days’ standards despite the fact that land was cheap back then. How cheap? Well, the last bit of land that my grandfather bought to complete his farm was a 100-acre tract that adjoined his property. That was in 1950. He purchased that tract for $22.50 an acre in 1950. Can you imagine buying prime farm land for that today? And that was 30 years after they had gotten married. The cost of land had risen quite a bit between 1921 and 1950.

            All that said, the original tract of land that was gifted to them in 1921 included an old house. It was a two-story house built by the people who had owned the land before my grandparent’s bought it. The house was drafty, with little in the way of insulation, but it served them well for the first 13 years of their marriage. They would build another house, a house that is still standing, in 1933-1934 using many of the massive beams that had been part of the original house on the land. The house may not be as aesthetic as the one my great-grandparents built in 1912, but it has good bones and has been well-cared for now for nearly 90 years. My mother used to say the wedding gift was a way for my grandparents to keep my grandfather from moving away. But the truth is he loved that land. He worked that land literally until two days before he died in 1967 at the age of 67. On Thursday April 20, 1967 he was digging post holes for a new fence not more than a hundred yards from where I sit writing this now. He went home for lunch complaining of indigestion for the 3rd time that week and my grandmother insisted he go see the doctor about it the next day. Well, he did see the doctor the next day and was informed that he had been having a bunch of little heart attacks all week. They put him in the hospital for observation. The next morning, we got the call that he had a massive heart attack and died instantly. For us it was the end of an era. I was 11 years old and was very close to my him. He was the second person in my life in two years that I was very close to that died. I am thankful for the hours, days, and weeks that I got to spend with him in my early life. He was a fantastic grandfather. He was a great man by any standard.

            Going back to 1921 now. The newlyweds relied on rainwater captured in a cistern at first. Grandpa felt sure that there was an underground spring beneath the area where the house was. So, he began to dig. By hand with a shovel. He braced the well as he went with two-by-four lumber. I can’t imagine how he must have felt digging deeper and deeper in the darkness of that well. Sure, he had a coal oil lantern, but he was down there by himself doing what was necessary. Something that 4 generations later don’t have a clue how to do. It may not seem very deep, but he struck an underground spring at about 30 feet. Water started to fill the well and he told us all how it was quite a scramble for him to get out of there, climbing back up the slippery mud walls of the well, without drowning. And I get bent out of shape in an MRI machine. He had more than the right stuff in my book.

            He had gone to Sam Houston State University for a year and learned quite a bit in that time about agriculture and farming. He probably had learned more in his first 18 years of life just living on a farm. But one thing that he knew for sure was that before he could use the water from that spring, he needed to make sure it was safe to drink. So, he gathered a sample. We take for granted today the ease with which we go from one place to another. In order for my grandpa to have that sample tested by Texas A&M University he had to first hitch his two mules to the wagon and spend an entire day getting to Trinity, Texas 12 miles away. He left the wagon and mules in a livery stable and took the train down to Huntsville, Texas another 19 miles away. He was then able to have the sample sent over to A&M for testing. But it would be about three weeks before he got the answer. I can only imagine his excitement upon receiving a letter from Texas A&M letting him know that the spring water was very pure. One of the purest that they had tested in a long time. It was great news for my grandparent’s who were now expecting their first child in May of 1922. Grandpa set to work finishing the well. More bracing and brick and earth mortar had to be installed by hand. Then the well top. This was also made by brick and mortar. One of the things he did as he fashioned that well top was to make a ledge around the inside of it a couple of feet inside the well. The ledge was big enough for milk and butter to be kept cool. Milk that came from their own cows and butter from that churned by hand by my grandmother.

            Now, I like milk and I love me some good butter. But my mother fairly well loathed both. Why? Because she said that growing up in the 30’s the butter and milk would sour or become rank after too long on that ledge. She had a lifelong dislike for butter and milk because of that. They didn’t get their first “ice box” until the late 30’s. It was not electric. They didn’t get electricity until the same month that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. That first “ice box” ran on kerosene. But by then she had no taste for milk or butter.

            By the time I can remember, in the late 50’s, they had an electric refrigerator and Grandpa had installed an electric pump to the old well and there was running water in the house. Although, I do remember taking baths in a big wash tub in the kitchen a few times. Poor Grandma! Heck, things had gotten downright modern by 1960. I watched Roy Rogers and Sky King on an old Zenith black and white TV. Grandma’s round ottoman served as both “Silver” and “Songbird” for my adventures with those heroes of mine.

            Thinking about what it took for my grandparents to make a life for themselves in the 1920’s makes me realize just how soft we’ve gotten. Each generation since then has lost so much in the way of knowledge on how to live without the many modern conveniences and electronics that are such a part of life 100 years later. Grandma used to tell us about the first time she ever saw a car. It was a big deal in 1909 to see one. They didn’t own their own automobile until 1928 when they purchased a farm truck. From what I was told it was quite the beast. A 1928 Chevrolet 1-ton stake bed farm truck. No heater, stick shift, no radio, and pretty much not much else. Heck, they paid extra just to have a cab. An uncle of my grandmother’s had a similar truck that he called “Mulee”. It didn’t have the cab and you just rode out in the elements. But it beat mules and wagons. Today’s young people would feel mistreated and treated unfairly if they didn’t have power windows, power locks, automatic transmission, Bluetooth stereo system, heated seats, etc. Some of the cars I owned as a young man weren’t much better than that old truck.

            I worry about America a lot these days. If a major upheaval were to happen in which we no longer had electricity and electronics, then how would the people survive? Some would, but too many wouldn’t. I won’t ponder that now, but you can and think long and hard about how you would survive. We need to teach our children’s children how to do without their cell phones and computers. Yes, they need to know how to use them because those skills are necessary for their future. But they also need to put them down or turn them off and learn how to make do without them. I could go on and on, but I won’t. Instead, I think I’ll go have a glass of cold milk and perhaps some toast with butter. I’m just glad that I didn’t have to milk the cow and churn the butter in order to enjoy those treats. But you know what? I could if I had to. Could you?

The Tall Doll

This story begins with the Christmas of 1961. I was 6, my sister Barbara was 12, and my sister Debbie was 9. The story really has nothing to do with that Christmas and we only start with it because it is, well, the beginning of the tale of “The Tall Doll”. The Tall Doll was one of Debbie’s Christmas presents. It was not a typically sized doll. It was quite literally about 3 feet tall. It had curly dark hair and its arms, legs, and head could be moved to allow it to stand-up, look from side to side, and wave. Obviously, with a little help from it’s “mom”. Its Mom would be Debbie.

Within about two years The Tall Doll was taking up too much room in the bedroom that my sisters shared. So, it was decided that it would move to the farm and reside with my grandparents. It would be there in the event Debbie decided to play with the doll which was increasingly less likely as Debbie got older.

Now we come to a rather dark time for The Tall Doll. It was sometime in 1964 or early 1965. It was such a traumatic event that not even I remember the exact date. However, I do remember the assault The Tall Doll received and miraculously survived. I also remember the aftermath of the assault. I remember these things so well because I was the perpetrator of said assault. Now, before you dip your mind in the gutter it was not some twisted X-rated assault. After all, I was only about 8 or 9 years old.

It was a Saturday afternoon like any other Saturday at the farm. I was supposed to be taking a nap after lunch. But that silly doll was standing in the corner of what we call “the sleeping porch” and it was just staring at me with those big blue eyes. That’s when I noticed the pair of scissors on the old chifforobe and in my mind, there was a perfect correlation between The Tall Doll and the scissors. Before you say, “You didn’t”, let me say that I did. I gave The Tall Doll a haircut. A rather severe haircut. You might say that doll could have worn a U.S. Marine uniform to go with its buzz-cut.

Well, Debbie discovered The Tall Doll, laying on the floor amid it’s shorn locks, with a glazed look coming from it’s blue eyes. I was nowhere to be found by that time, but that didn’t save me. It was obvious that I was the culprit. I mean, who else could it have been? I very nearly got into bad trouble over that foray into being a hairdresser and probably should have except for my sister Debbie, distraught over the mistreatment of The Tall Doll, took my brand-new set of 48 count Crayola Crayons and broke them all into pieces. Mom decided we were equally wrong and were therefore merely sentenced to Debbie living with a buzz-cut doll and me living with broken crayons.

My grandfather passed away in 1967 and Grandma moved out of the farmhouse later that year. The farmhouse over the next few years became a “catch-all” for a myriad of family furniture, discarded wall art, appliances that either didn’t work or barely worked, and as my father would have said, “Stuff like that that there.”

Now, you might think that The Tall Doll would have finally been tossed away by the time Debbie was out of high school. Nope. It was recycled for a younger cousin to play with when staying at the farm on a weekend. But even that came to an end when she got to old to play with buzz-cut tall dolls.

This brings me to what is known in our family as “The Tall Doll’s Last Stand”. This was sometime in the late 70’s. Tall Doll still resided at the farmhouse along with the mice, a 1958 TV set, and other long forgotten items. An extended family member, a cousin of my grandparents named Louis, had bought some of the land adjacent to our farm in about 1963. He was about 15 years younger than my grandparents. At some point in time he started to lease the farm land to raise his cattle on. Part of the agreement was that he would check in on the farmhouse from time to time. One Friday night Louis was on his way to his house and decided to stop in at the farmhouse to check on things. It was dark. In those days when night came it was truly dark here in the country. I’m talking about so dark that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face with the lights out. The story goes that Louis unlocked the front door while armed with a flashlight. He hadn’t bother going around to the breaker box on the side of the house to turn on the power. He didn’t plan on being there but for a couple of minutes. He was just going to walk through the house with his flashlight and make sure everything was OK. Louie’s flashlight swept through the living room and that’s when Louis’s heart skipped several beats. A little girl, about 3 feet tall, was sitting on the couch just staring at him. All he could think to say was, “Can I help you?” Well, if the Tall Doll had answered I kind of think that Louis would have been gone like Speedy Gonzalez. But, after a few seconds he realized he was talking to a rather large, buzz-cut, blue-eyed doll.

Louis reported his close encounter of the strange kind to my grandmother who then reported it to the rest of the family. Laughs were hail and hearty over the whole thing. My mother still liked to retell that story until she passed in early 2018. The Tall Doll would live another few years but was finally laid to rest when the farmhouse underwent a remodel in 1983.

But wait! There’s more! In 2014 I was walking through a CVS pharmacy in Huntsville, Texas around Christmas. I passed by an aisle of retro toys and I thought I heard a whisper. It went something like, “I’m baaakkk.” There was Tall Doll! No not THE Tall Doll, but a reissued Tall Doll. I had to buy it for my granddaughter. I waited until Christmas Eve when the whole family was there – Debbie included – and I gave the “New & Improved Tall Doll” to my granddaughter Sofia. I penned a note to the doll that said, “No scissors allowed.”

The Monkees: What Were They Doing Hanging Round?

If there was ever a living breathing real-life example of a "catch-22", then it was The Monkees. Think about it for a minute or at least let me think about it for a minute and share my thoughts with you. The Monkees would never have existed without their television series. Yet, the television series itself is probably the single biggest reason they were never taken seriously as a rock group. There is no doubt in my mind that they have received massive unfair treatment at the hands of the snobs of rock and roll and probably the single biggest reason for that was due to their silly television show.

The show was on the air originally when I was 11-13 years old. Did I watch it? Yes, so long as my father would allow us to. One of the seasons it was up against his favorite show, "Gunsmoke", and meant we got to watch it only after they started showing reruns of his show OR if he happened to not be at home. My sister Debbie was THE "Monkees" show fan of the family. I liked the music mostly. Oh, it's true that I probably laughed at some of the bits on the show, but it wasn't exactly the kind of show that made you think. But then, that was never it's purpose either. It was there to capture the young pre-teen girl audience and it succeeded in doing that quite well. I've had a chance to watch some of the episodes over the years and the truth is I can't hardly stand to watch the show now. It is silly. Mickey overacted, Mike underacted, Davy was the kind of guy other guys wanted to pound into the sand just for the fun of it, and then there was Peter. Peter was actually the best actor of the bunch in my humble opinion. Now, that doesn't mean he was in the same class as Clint Eastwood or Robert Redford, but he was believable most of the time. But let me get down to basics. The music.

It was the music that made me tune in and watch the show. Even the music had me groaning at times, but by and large it was darned good music. And it darned well should have been. Why? Well, the first season was primarily built around their first two albums. Despite Mike Nesmith's dislike for the first two albums, it was and is great music for the most part. Let me tell you why. Keep in mind that they were originally hired to ACT and pretend to be a band. So, they mostly were doing what they were told to do where the music was concerned. The sad truth is that they all possessed (well, maybe not Davy as much) considerable musical talents. Mickey Dolenz could sing with the best of them. In fact, he pretty much sang the majority of the songs on those first two albums. His vocal range was and still is amazing. His control was amazing. Listen to him when he does jazz scat on "Goin' Down". That song is an excellent song and his vocals on it are top notch. Mike Nesmith was a talented guitarist, vocalist (much underrated), and songwriter. It's true that he didn't really get to shine until their fourth album, but shine he did. Peter Tork was a multi-instrumentalist who was forced to act the buffoon on the show. He didn't come into his own as a vocalist until after The Monkees' heyday, but he could carry a tune despite being given only a very few opportunities to sing. Davy, well, Davy was Davy. Yes, he could sing. But for me it was like going into a sugar-induced coma. Way too icky sweet for me. He had a few good moments such as "She Hangs Out" and "Valeri", but there were those gawd-awful moments when he told us all about "The Day He Fell In Love" and that "He'd Be True to You". I get the shivers thinking about those songs now. And then there was his great "jawbone" playing on one of the albums. What, praytell, is a "jawbone" in the world of musical instruments.

Anyway, the truth is that the biggest rap against The Monkees was the whole "they weren't playing their own instruments" crud. Well, newsflash. In those days that was not uncommon. Every hear of "The Wrecking Crew"? Look 'em up. Guess what, with the exception of Brian Wilson playing a little on "Pet Sounds", the other Beach Boys didn't play on that album nor did they play on most of the albums from about 1965 onward. Yes, they could play their instruments, but they weren't as good as the pros were AND they were spending a lot of time on the road. Brian wrote most of their songs, but with help too. Van Dyke Parks and even Mike Loveshimselftoomuch wrote some lyrics. Remember, in the summer of 1966 when most of the first two albums by The Monkees were recorded they were also filming. Besides that the musical production was given to Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart for the most part with some songs being produced by Mike Nesmith and various other guest producers such as the songwriters of some of the songs. We're talking cream of the crop songwriters here. Neil Diamond, Boyce and Hart, King-Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Carol Bayer Sager, and list goes on. Those two albums are two of the best Pop albums to come out of the 60's. Maybe that's part of the problem too. The rock and roll snobs didn't like the word "Pop". Yet their heroes, The Beatles, were masters of Pop music. I love the song by The Byrds " So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star". But I hate the fact that Roger Mcguinn was poking fun at The Monkees with it. Yea, I know. The Byrds are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Monkees probably never will be. But they should be.

Sadly, by the time the Monkees wrestled control over the music with their third album, they were just not being taken seriously by the snobbies and to the pre-teen girls who loved them so much it just didn't matter. That third album, "Headquarters" is an excellent album. Most of the songs were written by them and they had creative control in the studio as well as they played most of the instruments. But nobody cared about that by then. So many of the groups that were thumbing their noses at The Monkees were not playing their own instruments or writing their songs. They still sounded good and got credit, but none of them stood up for The Monkees and said, "Hey, these guys really are talented and you should give them a fair chance." Why? Because the snobbies might have taken aim at them for standing up for The Monkees. Their fourth album was kind of weird. I like it much better today than I did at the time. Oh, I liked fully half or more of the songs at the time, but they were actually beyond my 12 year-old brain at the time. Mike Nesmith's vocals are outstanding. We got to hear a song or two by future mega-hit songwriters too. Harry Nilsson wrote "Cuddly-Toy" and Michael Martin Murphy wrote "What Am I Doing Hanging Round?" The latter of these two is probably my all-time favorite Monkee song. Oh, and let's not forget that the album also contained the Carol King-Gerry Goffin penned hit "Pleasant Valley Sunday". But then there was Davy doing "Star Collector" and someone or other ran amuck with the Moog Synthesyser. But the album has really grown on me through the years. Their last decent album (again, in my humble opinion) was "The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees". It's a success in that it has 4 good songs on it. "Daydream Believer", "Valeri", "I'll Be Back Upon My Feet Again", and "P.O. Box 9847". It suffers too much from Davy and the experimental, probably helped along with drugs, songs such as "Zor and Zam" and "Tapioca Tundra". Whatever that is. I don't want to get into what followed this album. Let's just say it was definitely headed in the wrong direction.

By 1969 The Monkees were unable to get a hit, Peter had already left, and they were just out of step with the progression of music. The only one of them that had success on his own was Mike. Some minor hits such as "Joanne" and then a decade later he had a great album called "Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma". I love that album and especially the song "Cruisin". Mike pioneered the music video format and won a Grammy for "Elephant Parts". Mickey and Davy couldn't seem to get past their Monkee glory days. Mickey should have had some hits in the 70's. He was certainly capable of it. Peter kind of went incognito for a few years. There was a resurgence in their popularity in the mid-80's when reruns of their old show became popular on MTV. But to be honest with you THE best Monkee album of all-time wasn't recorded in their heyday. Not even close. It was recorded and released in 2016. It's called "Good Times". There isn't a bad song on it and some of the songs are the final realization of their talents. Yes, Davy passed in 2012, but there are a couple of songs that they had recorded way back in the 60's that were never released (why is still a mystery) that feature Davy. So you do get the four of them.

All of this mumbo jumbo and now to my main point. These guys belong in the Hall of Fame. Their music was an inspiration for many musicians. I wanted to learn to the play the guitar after watching their show at 11 and 12. I am not the only person who was inspired by them. They had no less than 6 top 3 hit singles, 4 number 1 albums, and you hear their music on the radio all the time to this day. They belong in the Hall. They aren't the only ones that have suffered at the hands of the snobbies. Mention Paul Revere and The Raiders and many people think of their silly uniforms in their early days and they somehow or other got put in the "Pop" genre when they were rocking it with the best of them. Mark Lindsay had one of the best rock vocals ever and he wrote many of their hits and produced many of them as well. Their career spanned 6 years of making hits in a time when many bands were lucky to last a year. If the likes of Green Day and The Ramones are in the Hall, then Mark Lindsay and The Monkees should be. But we are talking about a bunch of dunderheads who took until 2017 to induct The Moody Blues and Chicago. In the words of Roger Waters, "Is there anybody in there?"

All Quiet On The Website Front

I have no idea if anybody is reading these posts. Although there is an easy way for someone to comment, nobody has done so today. So, I'm just going to assume that somebody out there is reading this. Sort of like a DJ on a small radio station in Botswalla, Texas who keeps talking assuming somebody is out there listening, but not actually having a clue if maybe he's the only person hearing his voice. I do know that the website has received 47 hits since last night. I guess it's possible that some of those were by accident or curiosity, but surely some of those hits were people who took the time to read my posts and check out other items on the website.

All of that said, I knew that leaving Facebook and social media was going to see a steep decline on the amount of known interactions with other people. Let's face it (no pun intended), Facebook, Twitter (which I have never done), and other such outlets are powerful. Facebook in particular. It's a freaking monster is what it is. But I refuse to feed the monster anymore.

It's been a mixed day for me. It started early around 6 a.m. I was very productive until about 2 o'clock this afternoon. By that time the rain had really started to (ahem) dampen things around here. As I write this, the rainfall total here on my place is just under 5 inches of rain for today. It has been some kind of year where rainfall has been concerned. I don't know that official total for my place or the county, but I do know that it's been way more than usual. In fact, the past two years have seen the area be wet most of the time. The only period of time that we didn't have a lot of rain was during July-August. That's typical though. Now, if you go back to 2011-2012 it was just the opposite. We suffered through an extended draught. I lost a lot of pine trees and some hard woods too due to the lack of rain then. Those trees have continued to rot and now with all the wet weather in the past two years the dead trees along the roads got waterlogged and came tumbling down. I have too get the tractor out and move the trees off the road quite a bit. Of course, if the county commissioner did his job, then I wouldn't have to do that as well as try to maintain the road leading to my house despite it being a county road. He's worthless as far as I'm concerned. Interestingly enough, he lives about 10 miles from me. The county road that goes by his house is in perfect shape up to his gate. Then it becomes a mud track. I'm planning on going to the next commissioner's court meeting where you can bring concerns you have. I have pictures for show and tell. His road versus the roads around my place which are in reality nothing more than creek beds due to he doesn't maintain them properly. He refuses to use the county equipment to dig ditches and install culverts so that the water doesn't simply run down the middle of the roads or cut deep trenches across them. The crazy thing is if he would fix the roads right to begin with, then maintaining them would be pretty simple. The truth is it's a good ole boy club and he picks and chooses who gets passable roads based on whether or not you're in the club. About 9 years ago he came to me and said that for $500 he would bring in rock on the road leading up to my house. I told him that my taxes already paid for the rock. So, ever since then my road is the last road to be graded and he refuses to do any preventative maintenance on it.

Anyway . . .

Since about 2 this afternoon I've been kind of in a funk. Can't do anything outside. Can't record due to the sound of rain too much. Can't do photography. Could write, but don't feel like it. I did manage to wash a couple of loads of clothes (what an exciting life!). I could watch a movie, but don't feel like that either. Rain is not my friend. There's just been too much of it. Since October I've had around 32 inches of rain which is 2/3's of a typical years total for the area. So, that amounts to 8 months of rainfall in only 2 months. I need to go out to West Texas where it doesn't rain like this. Would love to try out the new camera. But, there's a lot going on related to the holidays and any trip will have to wait until after Christmas.

Just for grins . . . If someone actually reads this, then make a one word comment. Just let me know that I'm not talking to the air.

Later,

Randy

Friday December 7, 2018

Today is my first day in nearly 10 years that I'm not tethered to Facebook or any other social media. I must tell you that it feels good. I seem to have more energy and more enthusiasm towards getting other things done. I sure don't miss the notifications on my cell phone. Those became very annoying. It was like I was being summoned by a command for attention by a petulant child. And like a fool, I just HAD to look on my phone to see who "liked" something, "posted something", "commented" on something, etc. Well, that's over. My time is my own time now.

Anyway, it's raining today but not in my heart! I got to visit with my daughter, son-in-law, and newest grandbaby, Ziva, yesterday. That little girl is so bright and such a joy to be with. Of course, all of my granddaughters are like that. Ziva and I spent some time just communing. She was most interested in my beard and the way that little girl giggles and smiles when I whistle the tune to "Winnie The Pooh" just steals my heart.

I'll be posting some new "stuff" in the next couple of days. I am revamping the website and in some sense re-learning it given I haven't spent much time lately on it. I hope that you are all having a glorious day and that the season of joy is upon you.

Later,

Randy

It's Done!

I have officially deleted my Facebook account. Well, actually it says that it won't be deleted for real for 30 days. They want to give you a chance to come back during that time. Not gonna happen. Just to show you how much time is wasted on social media sites such as Facebook, I downloaded everything from my account for 2018. I have been doing this yearly since I started on Facebook in 2009. Keeping in mind that the download is just for the first 11 months, it amounted to a zip file of 86 mb. That's just MY posts and so forth. Once extracted the figure goes way up. So, that's an awful lot of time spent just on Facebook this year. I plan on replacing that time with writing, photography, and recording. I'll be updating you HERE like I did on Facebook, but without all the aggravation associated with Facebook. 

I sure hope to hear from my friends via this website. I guess if one can't be bothered to click on my website for updates, then perhaps one won't really miss me at all. I'll miss you guys if you don't.

Take care,

Randy

A Thanksgiving Story by James R. Stout

     When I was in my mid-20’s I worked for a major bus line. There were really only two such companies in America at that time. I had graduated from college 3 years earlier and my job was to travel from town to town to the major hubs and oversee marketing and advertising in the hubs. It wasn’t exactly a glamourous job and it didn’t appear to hold much in the way of a bright future, but it was a stepping stone to better things for a marketing career. The incident that I’m about to tell you happened in November of 1972. 

     I had gotten to know many of the workers at the hub in one of the largest cities in Texas. It was a time when Houston had a booming economy. People still rode the bus a lot in those days. We were a little worried about the effects of a certain airline that was flying for peanuts. They were starting to hurt our business because they were offering flights between major cities within Texas for as little as $15 one-way. We just couldn’t compete with that price and get our passengers to their destination in nearly the time that an airline could. But, we were starting to make new routes to the places that the airlines couldn’t go. Well, to tell the truth we had already been going to those towns, but we were now accentuating the towns in our marketing campaigns.
     I had become friends with a man in the Houston hub that had a position called “service worker”. It was a thankless job for the most part and I was very glad that I wasn’t stuck in such a job. But you would never have thought that Manny Padilla was unhappy. I honestly don’t believe he was capable of being truly unhappy. He was perhaps one of the most friendly and positive people I’ve ever met. Manny was older than me by about 7 or 8 years. He was married to a wonderful woman named Juana which translated means “God’s gift” and they had 4 kids ages 1 to 9. Manny didn’t make much money in his job. But he was glad to have the job. It mainly entailed the cleaning of the inside and outside of the buses when they were in the hub which could be hard work and sometimes gross given some of the messes left behind in the restrooms on the buses. But Manny was a cheerful worker and he took pride in his work. He wanted to do his part in making sure our customers travelled in clean and pleasant environments.
     This particular day was the day before Thanksgiving of that year. There were a lot of travelers taking to the roads via our bus line headed to visit relatives and loved ones for the holiday. Our last bus out that day would leave at 7:45 p.m. I was wanting to get home to my parent’s house about an hour north of Houston, but there were things that needed to be done to make sure we were ready for the next day of business. Manny would be getting off work at 9 p.m. given he would need to clean some of the buses to make sure that they were ready for service. The lobby of the station would be open until about 9 p.m. to give travelers a place to wait for pick-up by loved ones. By about 8:45 there was only one person left sitting in the lobby. Manny and I were talking just inside the lobby when Manny took notice of the elderly gentleman sitting alone in a corner of the lobby.
I watched as Manny walked over to the man. I thought that Manny was going to let the old gentleman know it was almost closing time, but that’s not what happened.
“Excuse me, sir.” Manny said to the old man. “Can I help you?”
     The old man was dressed in a worn suit that probably had been bought off the rack a decade before. It was badly in need of cleaning and pressing. He wore an equally battered hat, wrinkled but clean shirt, and a pair of worn at the heels Brogans. His fingers were gnarled and bent from arthritis and he was in need of a shave given the gray stubble on his face was a week past its last cutting. He had thinning white hair and bushy white eyebrows. Despite his age and station in life his eyes were clear and bright, and I was immediately struck by the feeling of joy that his eyes seemed to exude. 
     “Well, young fella, I should be fine here tonight. It’s warm and safe and I’ve certainly spent the night in worse situations”, the old man replied.
I knew what was coming next. I almost cringed at the thought of being the one to tell the old man the bad news. But, Manny broke it to the old man in a kind way. If there is such a thing.
     “Sir, I’m most sorry, but you cannot spend the night in the station. We will be closing in a few minutes and the place must be cleared of any customers. Is there somebody that I can call for you?” Manny asked.
     The old man, who had not yet introduced himself, pursed his lips and you could see that he was concerned about this news. But he didn’t argue or get belligerent or anything of that nature. He just sighed and rubbed his chin with his arthritic hand contemplating his situation. Finally, he spoke.
     “I see. That does sort of present a problem. You wouldn’t happen to know if there’s a YMCA or shelter nearby would you? He asked.
I could see Manny’s mind working in overdrive. Not meaning to appear to be mocking the old man, Manny rubbed his chin with his considerably younger and better conditioned hands while he considered the question.
     “Well, sir. By the way, my name is Manny Padilla.” He said.
     “Ahh, yes. Pardon me for not introducing myself. People call me Dewey or Dew for short.” 
     “Mr. Dewey, let me ask you a question.” Manny said. “Do you have anyone that we can call for you?”
     “It’s Dewey Michaels, but Dew will, a-hem, do.” He said with a chuckle. “No sir, I have no family and all of my friends have gone on to be with the Lord. I’m afraid I’m just a wayfaring stranger these days.”
     Manny scrunched up his face and I for just a moment our eyes met. I knew what was coming next because I knew Manny. 
     “Mr. Dew, how would you like to come and spend the night with my family and share Thanksgiving dinner with us tomorrow. I can bring you back to the station on Friday morning and I feel certain that I can get you a ticket to just about any place that you might wish to go.”
     Dewey Michaels looked at Manny with what I would call way more than gratitude. I was afraid that he would decline the offer though in lieu of pride, but much to my surprise he said,

 “Well, now if you’re sure and you’re sure that the missus won’t mind, then I would enjoy that very much.” Dewey replied.
I found myself being a tad on the negative side and I was immediately embarrassed of my thoughts. But they were there anyway. First, Manny didn’t know what kind of person Dewey was. Didn’t have a clue. Second, I knew that Manny and his family were living in already tight quarters. A small 2-bedroom house on the near northside of Downtown Houston. It was always neat and clean (Juana wouldn’t have it any other way!), but it was very small. The three older kids shared a bedroom while Manny, Juana, and the baby shared the other. I supposed that Dewey could sleep on the couch, but it was going to be crowded once Dewey’s mother, sister and her family, and Manny’s two brothers and their families were there for the dinner. But it was Manny’s wish to be helpful to the old man. 
I was just about to leave and head home when I walked over to Manny who was doing the same and I slipped him a $20 bill. I told him to make sure that Dewey had some money in his pocket when he got on a bus on Friday. Manny grinned from ear to ear and winked at me.
     “Will do, Dave. And you have a great Thanksgiving dinner!”
     I wished him the same and left the station. All the way to my parent’s house I thought about what an incredibly selfless thing that Manny was doing. It made me proud to call him friend. I would be leaving on Friday for San Antonio then to Austin, El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo, Ft. Worth, and Dallas, returning to Houston in about two weeks. I would have to wait to find out how things went.
     Two weeks came and went pretty quickly, and I once again made my way to the Houston station. I saw Manny as he exited a bus with a bag of trash in one hand and a broom in the other. I walked over, and we exchanged greetings. I had to ask him.
     “So, how did the visit with Dewey go on Thanksgiving?”
     “Oh, it was wonderful! He was a delight. He entertained the kids with stories of his youth and then when he saw my Dad’s old guitar leaning up against the wall in a corner he took it and you wouldn’t believe how amazing he was on that thing. He played flamingo style and I tell you I’ve never heard any better. Everyone was mesmerized by his ability. And he could sing too! Before it was over with several of the neighbors came over too and we all sat on the floor listening to him play. He told us about his time working in Spain as a young man and the civil war there and how he barely escaped over some big mountain range into France. Then he said that he was in France when Germany invaded, and he had to escape to England. He made his way back home to America and joined the Army Air Corps. He became a pilot and ended up flying missions into Germany during the war. He said he came home after the war and started a business, but then it was time to eat our dinner and I didn’t get to hear any more about his life.”
     “That’s incredibly cool, Manny. I guess he got off OK on that Friday?” I asked.
     “Oh, yes. And he said to be sure and tell you how much he appreciated the $20. I got him on a bus to Phoenix, Arizona where he said he thought he might have an old friend that he could stay with for a week or so. I still can’t get over how well he played the guitar with those arthritic hands. I can only imagine how well he played when he was younger!”

 

     Time seemed to fly by over the next year. I saw Manny from time to time and then in December of 1973, a little more than a year after we met Dewey, I was offered a wonderful marketing job for a major retailer. It was a huge pay increase and I was exited to embark on a new adventure. On my last trip to the Houston station I wanted to say goodbye to Manny and take him out to lunch. We were just about to leave for our favorite Italian restaurant in downtown Houston when a man in a very expensive suit entered the lobby. You couldn’t help but notice him. He was out of place in a bus station. I looked past him into the parking lot and saw a shiny new Cadillac and figured it had to be his. We saw him walk up to the ticket counter and then the ticket agent pointed in our direction. The man thanked the agent and then headed our way. I couldn’t imagine what such a man as this would be wanting to talk to either of us about.
     The man walked up and extended his hand to Manny and introduced himself as Paul Windsor. He also shook my hand and amazingly he knew my name as well.
     “Gentleman, could I have a few minutes of your time? I promise it will be worthwhile.” He said.
Manny and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and both said “sure” at the same time. Mr. Windsor invited us to step outside and have a seat in his Cadillac. It was one of those stretch limos with two rear seats that faced each other. We had never before been in such a car before and were both wide-eyed at the luxury. Mr. Windsor began to speak after we were all seated and enjoying the warmth of the heated interior.
     “First, Mr. Padilla let me ask you a question. Do you recall meeting a man about a year ago named Dewey Michaels?”
     “Sure! He was great guy. A real sweet old man.” Manny replied.
     “Yes, yes he was that and so much more.” Mr. Windsor said.
     “How about you Mr. Quincy?” he asked me.
     “Sure. I remember him, and I too thought he was a really nice man. Has something happened to him?” I asked.
     “Yes, I’m afraid so, Mr. Quincy. But let me tell you a few things that you couldn’t possibly have known about Mr. Michaels. Following World War 2 he started a manufacturing business. It was a small operation at first, but then he proved to be a most inventive and intuitive businessman. He took that small business and within a decade it was one of the largest suppliers of parts for large machinery in the construction and demolition trade. He then branched out and started a tool company, an airline, a large theater chain, a candy company, and even a motorcycle company catering to both the American and European market. By 1960 he was a multi-billonaire.”
By this time, you could have shoveled a dump truck load of dirt into mine and Manny’s open mouths. We were flabbergasted. You would never have guessed that the kindly old man that we met was that successful. Mr. Windsor continued.
     “Then, in late 1968 tragedy struck in Mr. Michaels life. His wife, their son and his family, and several close friends had gone on ahead by plane to an island resort where they would all spend Thanksgiving together. Mr. Michaels was to follow the next day after clearing up some last-minute negotiations for the purchase of a coffee plantation. Sadly, the airplane carrying his family and friends developed engine trouble over the Gulf of Mexico and was lost at sea. There were no survivors. In a few short minutes Mr. Michaels lost his entire family and loved ones. He was devastated. He lost his heart for his businesses as well. He appointed trusted employees to helm each business and he decided to travel. But not the kind of travel you might think. He took with him very little. A change of clothes, a little cash, and a hope at finding something good in a world that now seemed beyond sad to him. Frankly, we were all very concerned for his safety and well-being, but he insisted and after all, he was literally the boss.”
     “Over the past three years he traveled by thumb, occasionally by public transportation such as the bus line where you two are employed, and by foot at times. He would check in with his office about once a month to make sure things were running smoothly. He still had a lot of employees worldwide that depended on their jobs”.
He stopped for a moment to gather his thoughts and then continued.
     “Now, to the part where you two come into the story. His spirit was restored by the kindness that Manny and his family showed him last Thanksgiving. He once again learned to smile. He once again found joy. The simple kindness of a stranger restored his faith and hope. He returned to us at corporate headquarters about 6 months ago. But he didn’t pick-up and start working for money and such. Instead, he started to give back to world, one person at a time according to their need, and he was indeed a changed man. Amazingly, his businesses grew and grew and grew beyond all expectations. He once again attended church and made sure that the coffers were filled in many different congregations from Baptist to Catholic to Methodist to all denominations. He did so anonymously and there was an underground whispering about an angel visiting this church and then that church and bestowing blessings. But in Mr. Michaels’ mind he was receiving the blessings. He was truly thankful to God for all the blessings he had known. There wasn’t an ounce of bitterness in him at the end over the loss of his family.”
     Manny and I were both finding it hard to not cry at this point. We had no idea that Manny’s act of kindness and even my simple donation of $20 could have started such a turn around in Mr. Michaels’ life. Mr. Windsor continued.
     “About two months ago Mr. Michaels started to feel poorly. He was having a lot of pain in his abdomen. At first, he thought it might be an ulcer or something of that nature, but when it became nearly unbearable he sought the help of doctors. They did all kinds of tests and poked and prodded and through it all Mr. Michaels kept his joy. He still managed to smile. Finally, the bad news was delivered. He had pancreatic cancer. It was past any hope of treatment. He was told that he had perhaps 4 to 6 weeks to live. Mr. Michaels spent the next three weeks getting things finalized for his considerable estate. He had no family to leave it to. But he had some beloved employees and then he had you.”
Manny and I looked at each other in bewilderment. How was it possible that this man would think of Manny and I from only a day or so of time spent with him?
     Mr. Windsor looked at me and said, “Mr. Quincy, Mr. Michaels has left you a small amount of money from his estate. It’s not that much, but it should be enough to make sure you are debt free for now and can start your new job, a job at one of Mr. Michaels’ many businesses, with a bright future ahead. He left you $100,000 dollars to do with as you see fit. He hopes that you will spend or invest it wisely and he felt sure that you would. A great deal of investigation into your life was made prior to this bequeath. Mr. Padilla, Mr. Michaels wanted to make sure that you and your family have a better future than you might otherwise have had. He has set-up a college annuity for each of your children. They will be able to go to the best of schools, but it also depends on their dedication and hard work. He has also left you an inheritance of 1 Million dollars. He felt sure this would provide you with a new home large enough for your family, proper transportation, and the many things that you have gone without. Furthermore, he wanted you to start training at one of his businesses in a field that you feel called to and a place will be made for you and you will be welcomed with open arms.”
     Well, you could have knocked us over with a whisper. It was just unbelievable. We spent another hour talking to Mr. Windsor obtaining information on how to proceed and then he left us his private phone number with instructions to contact him at anytime with any questions. We watched as that limousine drove away and then despite how it might look to anyone watching, we gave each other a huge hug. Mr. Michaels had passed away two weeks prior and we were both sad that we would never get a chance to thank him for his incredible kindness and generosity. 
     That was all 45 years ago. Manny passed on a few months ago, but he worked for 40 years as the maintenance supervisor for one of Mr. Michaels’ businesses. He learned to fly, obtaining his pilot’s license and on many occasions, he flew me and my family along with his family for trips to places like Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, and once to Hawaii. All of his children graduated from college. One went on to become a surgeon, one became a minister, one has made a career in the United States Army having graduated from West Point and at this point holds the rank of Lt. Colonel, and then the baby has become an executive at a coffee company. I’m sure you can guess how that came about! Juana is still alive and lives in the same house that they bought in West Houston back in 1974. As for me, I got married in 1976 to a wonderful lady and we had two children. They have both made me very proud and have blessed us with 6 grandkids. 
     The businesses that Mr. Michaels owned have mostly flourished with some ups and downs along with the economy, but they have provided literally hundreds of thousands of families with jobs and lives. Every Thanksgiving for 44 years we got together as one big huge family with my family and Manny’s family. We have all had so much to be thankful for. When I think of the tragedy of Mr. Michaels’ loss of his family and how he dealt with that loss I am reminded of a great hymn. It’s called, “It Is Well With My Soul”. We should all remember to be thankful to God not only on Thanksgiving Day, but every day. No matter what comes our way we must remember the rich blessings that God has bestowed on us, even the ones that don’t seem to be blessings at first. So, go out and be thankful for what you have instead of being sad at what you don’t have. Happy Thanksgiving!

December 5, 2018 - Update

I thought perhaps a short preview of some things to come here on jamesrstout.com would be in order. I suppose it's the perfectionist in me (others who know me might say I'm obsessive compulsive, but hey . . .), but I'm going to number these things for you. 

1. I will be posting a short story that I recently wrote and featured on Facebook. 

2. I will be updating the photos on this website. There's plenty more to share. The important thing to note about this is that I will NOT be making them available for sale. In fact, I will be dropping the "store" page altogether and will no longer offer any photos for sale. I just want to share them with you. If you REALLY feel the need to have your very own copy of one of the photos, then contact me and I'll make it happen.

3. I am currently working on a bunch of new recordings. Once they are completed I will be sharing them here. Most likely via YouTube or some such avenue. I am contemplating allowing the download of some of these new recordings FOR FREE! I'm at a point in life where I'm not trying to make my mark on the world. I just want to share some of my "stuff" with you.

4. I have begun the research phase of what will end up being either a book or possibly a series of books. I won't say much about it right now, but take my word for it when I tell you that it will be a special project. Perhaps the biggest and best thing that I have ever done. It will likely be nearly a year before it's done, but you'll be hearing more about it as things progress.

5. Some of you know that I was working on a book this year. Well, it's pretty much finished. However, I have decided to hold it back at this time. It will likely be tied into the above mentioned book and I don't want to get ahead of myself with this. I may post some excerpts of the completed book just for feedback from you.

Well, that's about it for now. Please come back and visit me often. I will be making updates to this website as time permits. I'm doing it all myself, so it won't be like I have a staff that can do a lot of this for me. So, please be patient.

Thanks!

Anti-Social Media

Dear Reader,

After much thought and consideration I have decided to remove myself from the "social media" circus. Essentially, I'm talking about Facebook. There are several reasons for this decision. First, things have gotten so political. While I definitely believe in voting and taking a stand for my beliefs, I have become disenchanted with the far too many political posts on social media sites such Facebook. Furthermore, most of the posts that I see are negative and downright nasty. I don't know about you, but I simply don't want to fill my time up with negative thoughts. Both sides are guilty of posting negative and mean-spirited posts about the other side. We are never going to get anywhere with that kind of process.

Second, the main two reasons that I have been on Facebook have been to keep up with friends and family and to share my photography, writing, and music. It occurs to me that the former of these two simply shouldn't be done on Facebook. I would prefer to talk on the phone, text, or email with my friends and family. Facebook is actually too impersonal and addictive. The latter of these two reasons can be accomplished via my website. No, the reach won't be what it currently is or appears to be via Facebook. But then, if a person can't bother to bookmark my website and go there from time to time to "visit" with me, then perhaps we don't have a report to begin with. Have we really become so lazy that we can't make a couple of mouse clicks to stay in touch? I hope not.

Thirdly, Facebook and other sites like it truly are addictive. The release of dopamine in our brains due to how many "likes" and comments we get is a fact. I don't want to be addicted to anything. Do you? I have decided to "just say no" to Facebook.

Finally, the complete waste of time spent on social media is alarming and should be embarrassing to all of us. Think about it. Isn't there something better to do than view ads that we don't really want to see, read all about what someone is eating for lunch, and keep-up with the minute details in a person's life that too often are exaggerated at best and downright made-up at worst?

I have things that I want to accomplish. I'm betting that you do too. I find it hard to get those things done if I spend hours a day on social media. Hey, I'm even deleting Solitaire from my phone. I couldn't believe how much time I have wasted playing that game when I could have been doing something constructive. I have things to write, music to record, and photography to do. Those things are in addition to the everyday parts of life that we all have. 

Do I want to keep up with you? Yes, but not via social media. Email me and I'll reply. If you know me well, then call me on the phone once in a while. I promise to do the same. I hope that you all understand why I'm making this decision to remove myself from Facebook. You DO matter to me. I DO want feedback from you. The sad truth is that I have something like 170 Facebook "friends". Some of them I've never met or even spoken to before. A core group of perhaps a third of those 170 souls actually interact with me via likes and such. 

So, dear friends and readers, please bookmark my website. Come and visit me once in a while. I will be updating the site with information on my writing projects, my photography, and my music. I hope to hear from you from time to time. Just for the record . . . 

jamesrstout.com

ranout09@yahoo.com

Thanks and God bless you!

The Well

            My grandparents got married in 1921. Their wedding gift (my mother called it a bribe) from my grandfather’s parents was a piece of land that was part of my great-grandparent’s farm. It would be quite a gift by today’s standards and to tell the truth it was quite a gift by those days’ standards despite the fact that land was cheap back then. How cheap? Well, the last bit of land that my grandfather bought to complete his farm was a 100-acre tract that adjoined his property. That was in 1950. He purchased that tract for $22.50 an acre in 1950. Can you imagine buying prime farm land for that today? And that was 30 years after they had gotten married. The cost of land had risen quite a bit between 1921 and 1950.

            All that said, the original tract of land that was gifted to them in 1921 included an old house. It was a two-story house built by the people who had owned the land before my grandparent’s bought it. The house was drafty, with little in the way of insulation, but it served them well for the first 13 years of their marriage. They would build another house, a house that is still standing, in 1933-1934 using many of the massive beams that had been part of the original house on the land. The house may not be as aesthetic as the one my great-grandparents built in 1912, but it has good bones and has been well-cared for now for nearly 90 years. My mother used to say the wedding gift was a way for my grandparents to keep my grandfather from moving away. But the truth is he loved that land. He worked that land literally until two days before he died in 1967 at the age of 67. On Thursday April 20, 1967 he was digging post holes for a new fence not more than a hundred yards from where I sit writing this now. He went home for lunch complaining of indigestion for the 3rd time that week and my grandmother insisted he go see the doctor about it the next day. Well, he did see the doctor the next day and was informed that he had been having a bunch of little heart attacks all week. They put him in the hospital for observation. The next morning, we got the call that he had a massive heart attack and died instantly. For us it was the end of an era. I was 11 years old and was very close to my him. He was the second person in my life in two years that I was very close to that died. I am thankful for the hours, days, and weeks that I got to spend with him in my early life. He was a fantastic grandfather. He was a great man by any standard.

            Going back to 1921 now. The newlyweds relied on rainwater captured in a cistern at first. Grandpa felt sure that there was an underground spring beneath the area where the house was. So, he began to dig. By hand with a shovel. He braced the well as he went with two-by-four lumber. I can’t imagine how he must have felt digging deeper and deeper in the darkness of that well. Sure, he had a coal oil lantern, but he was down there by himself doing what was necessary. Something that 4 generations later don’t have a clue how to do. It may not seem very deep, but he struck an underground spring at about 30 feet. Water started to fill the well and he told us all how it was quite a scramble for him to get out of there, climbing back up the slippery mud walls of the well, without drowning. And I get bent out of shape in an MRI machine. He had more than the right stuff in my book.

            He had gone to Sam Houston State University for a year and learned quite a bit in that time about agriculture and farming. He probably had learned more in his first 18 years of life just living on a farm. But one thing that he knew for sure was that before he could use the water from that spring, he needed to make sure it was safe to drink. So, he gathered a sample. We take for granted today the ease with which we go from one place to another. In order for my grandpa to have that sample tested by Texas A&M University he had to first hitch his two mules to the wagon and spend an entire day getting to Trinity, Texas 12 miles away. He left the wagon and mules in a livery stable and took the train down to Huntsville, Texas another 19 miles away. He was then able to have the sample sent over to A&M for testing. But it would be about three weeks before he got the answer. I can only imagine his excitement upon receiving a letter from Texas A&M letting him know that the spring water was very pure. One of the purest that they had tested in a long time. It was great news for my grandparent’s who were now expecting their first child in May of 1922. Grandpa set to work finishing the well. More bracing and brick and earth mortar had to be installed by hand. Then the well top. This was also made by brick and mortar. One of the things he did as he fashioned that well top was to make a ledge around the inside of it a couple of feet inside the well. The ledge was big enough for milk and butter to be kept cool. Milk that came from their own cows and butter from that churned by hand by my grandmother.

            Now, I like milk and I love me some good butter. But my mother fairly well loathed both. Why? Because she said that growing up in the 30’s the butter and milk would sour or become rank after too long on that ledge. She had a lifelong dislike for butter and milk because of that. They didn’t get their first “ice box” until the late 30’s. It was not electric. They didn’t get electricity until the same month that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. That first “ice box” ran on kerosene. But by then she had no taste for milk or butter.

            By the time I can remember, in the late 50’s, they had an electric refrigerator and Grandpa had installed an electric pump to the old well and there was running water in the house. Although, I do remember taking baths in a big wash tub in the kitchen a few times. Poor Grandma! Heck, things had gotten downright modern by 1960. I watched Roy Rogers and Sky King on an old Zenith black and white TV. Grandma’s round ottoman served as both “Silver” and “Songbird” for my adventures with those heroes of mine.

            Thinking about what it took for my grandparents to make a life for themselves in the 1920’s makes me realize just how soft we’ve gotten. Each generation since then has lost so much in the way of knowledge on how to live without the many modern conveniences and electronics that are such a part of life 100 years later. Grandma used to tell us about the first time she ever saw a car. It was a big deal in 1909 to see one. They didn’t own their own automobile until 1928 when they purchased a farm truck. From what I was told it was quite the beast. A 1928 Chevrolet 1-ton stake bed farm truck. No heater, stick shift, no radio, and pretty much not much else. Heck, they paid extra just to have a cab. An uncle of my grandmother’s had a similar truck that he called “Mulee”. It didn’t have the cab and you just rode out in the elements. But it beat mules and wagons. Today’s young people would feel mistreated and treated unfairly if they didn’t have power windows, power locks, automatic transmission, Bluetooth stereo system, heated seats, etc. Some of the cars I owned as a young man weren’t much better than that old truck.

            I worry about America a lot these days. If a major upheaval were to happen in which we no longer had electricity and electronics, then how would the people survive? Some would, but too many wouldn’t. I won’t ponder that now, but you can and think long and hard about how you would survive. We need to teach our children’s children how to do without their cell phones and computers. Yes, they need to know how to use them because those skills are necessary for their future. But they also need to put them down or turn them off and learn how to make do without them. I could go on and on, but I won’t. Instead, I think I’ll go have a glass of cold milk and perhaps some toast with butter. I’m just glad that I didn’t have to milk the cow and churn the butter in order to enjoy those treats. But you know what? I could if I had to. Could you?

The Tall Doll

This story begins with the Christmas of 1961. I was 6, my sister Barbara was 12, and my sister Debbie was 9. The story really has nothing to do with that Christmas and we only start with it because it is, well, the beginning of the tale of “The Tall Doll”. The Tall Doll was one of Debbie’s Christmas presents. It was not a typically sized doll. It was quite literally about 3 feet tall. It had curly dark hair and its arms, legs, and head could be moved to allow it to stand-up, look from side to side, and wave. Obviously, with a little help from it’s “mom”. Its Mom would be Debbie.

Within about two years The Tall Doll was taking up too much room in the bedroom that my sisters shared. So, it was decided that it would move to the farm and reside with my grandparents. It would be there in the event Debbie decided to play with the doll which was increasingly less likely as Debbie got older.

Now we come to a rather dark time for The Tall Doll. It was sometime in 1964 or early 1965. It was such a traumatic event that not even I remember the exact date. However, I do remember the assault The Tall Doll received and miraculously survived. I also remember the aftermath of the assault. I remember these things so well because I was the perpetrator of said assault. Now, before you dip your mind in the gutter it was not some twisted X-rated assault. After all, I was only about 8 or 9 years old.

It was a Saturday afternoon like any other Saturday at the farm. I was supposed to be taking a nap after lunch. But that silly doll was standing in the corner of what we call “the sleeping porch” and it was just staring at me with those big blue eyes. That’s when I noticed the pair of scissors on the old chifforobe and in my mind, there was a perfect correlation between The Tall Doll and the scissors. Before you say, “You didn’t”, let me say that I did. I gave The Tall Doll a haircut. A rather severe haircut. You might say that doll could have worn a U.S. Marine uniform to go with its buzz-cut.

Well, Debbie discovered The Tall Doll, laying on the floor amid it’s shorn locks, with a glazed look coming from it’s blue eyes. I was nowhere to be found by that time, but that didn’t save me. It was obvious that I was the culprit. I mean, who else could it have been? I very nearly got into bad trouble over that foray into being a hairdresser and probably should have except for my sister Debbie, distraught over the mistreatment of The Tall Doll, took my brand-new set of 48 count Crayola Crayons and broke them all into pieces. Mom decided we were equally wrong and were therefore merely sentenced to Debbie living with a buzz-cut doll and me living with broken crayons.

My grandfather passed away in 1967 and Grandma moved out of the farmhouse later that year. The farmhouse over the next few years became a “catch-all” for a myriad of family furniture, discarded wall art, appliances that either didn’t work or barely worked, and as my father would have said, “Stuff like that that there.”

Now, you might think that The Tall Doll would have finally been tossed away by the time Debbie was out of high school. Nope. It was recycled for a younger cousin to play with when staying at the farm on a weekend. But even that came to an end when she got to old to play with buzz-cut tall dolls.

This brings me to what is known in our family as “The Tall Doll’s Last Stand”. This was sometime in the late 70’s. Tall Doll still resided at the farmhouse along with the mice, a 1958 TV set, and other long forgotten items. An extended family member, a cousin of my grandparents named Louis, had bought some of the land adjacent to our farm in about 1963. He was about 15 years younger than my grandparents. At some point in time he started to lease the farm land to raise his cattle on. Part of the agreement was that he would check in on the farmhouse from time to time. One Friday night Louis was on his way to his house and decided to stop in at the farmhouse to check on things. It was dark. In those days when night came it was truly dark here in the country. I’m talking about so dark that you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face with the lights out. The story goes that Louis unlocked the front door while armed with a flashlight. He hadn’t bother going around to the breaker box on the side of the house to turn on the power. He didn’t plan on being there but for a couple of minutes. He was just going to walk through the house with his flashlight and make sure everything was OK. Louie’s flashlight swept through the living room and that’s when Louis’s heart skipped several beats. A little girl, about 3 feet tall, was sitting on the couch just staring at him. All he could think to say was, “Can I help you?” Well, if the Tall Doll had answered I kind of think that Louis would have been gone like Speedy Gonzalez. But, after a few seconds he realized he was talking to a rather large, buzz-cut, blue-eyed doll.

Louis reported his close encounter of the strange kind to my grandmother who then reported it to the rest of the family. Laughs were hail and hearty over the whole thing. My mother still liked to retell that story until she passed in early 2018. The Tall Doll would live another few years but was finally laid to rest when the farmhouse underwent a remodel in 1983.

But wait! There’s more! In 2014 I was walking through a CVS pharmacy in Huntsville, Texas around Christmas. I passed by an aisle of retro toys and I thought I heard a whisper. It went something like, “I’m baaakkk.” There was Tall Doll! No not THE Tall Doll, but a reissued Tall Doll. I had to buy it for my granddaughter. I waited until Christmas Eve when the whole family was there – Debbie included – and I gave the “New & Improved Tall Doll” to my granddaughter Sofia. I penned a note to the doll that said, “No scissors allowed.”

The Monkees: What Were They Doing Hanging Round?

If there was ever a living breathing real-life example of a "catch-22", then it was The Monkees. Think about it for a minute or at least let me think about it for a minute and share my thoughts with you. The Monkees would never have existed without their television series. Yet, the television series itself is probably the single biggest reason they were never taken seriously as a rock group. There is no doubt in my mind that they have received massive unfair treatment at the hands of the snobs of rock and roll and probably the single biggest reason for that was due to their silly television show.

The show was on the air originally when I was 11-13 years old. Did I watch it? Yes, so long as my father would allow us to. One of the seasons it was up against his favorite show, "Gunsmoke", and meant we got to watch it only after they started showing reruns of his show OR if he happened to not be at home. My sister Debbie was THE "Monkees" show fan of the family. I liked the music mostly. Oh, it's true that I probably laughed at some of the bits on the show, but it wasn't exactly the kind of show that made you think. But then, that was never it's purpose either. It was there to capture the young pre-teen girl audience and it succeeded in doing that quite well. I've had a chance to watch some of the episodes over the years and the truth is I can't hardly stand to watch the show now. It is silly. Mickey overacted, Mike underacted, Davy was the kind of guy other guys wanted to pound into the sand just for the fun of it, and then there was Peter. Peter was actually the best actor of the bunch in my humble opinion. Now, that doesn't mean he was in the same class as Clint Eastwood or Robert Redford, but he was believable most of the time. But let me get down to basics. The music.

It was the music that made me tune in and watch the show. Even the music had me groaning at times, but by and large it was darned good music. And it darned well should have been. Why? Well, the first season was primarily built around their first two albums. Despite Mike Nesmith's dislike for the first two albums, it was and is great music for the most part. Let me tell you why. Keep in mind that they were originally hired to ACT and pretend to be a band. So, they mostly were doing what they were told to do where the music was concerned. The sad truth is that they all possessed (well, maybe not Davy as much) considerable musical talents. Mickey Dolenz could sing with the best of them. In fact, he pretty much sang the majority of the songs on those first two albums. His vocal range was and still is amazing. His control was amazing. Listen to him when he does jazz scat on "Goin' Down". That song is an excellent song and his vocals on it are top notch. Mike Nesmith was a talented guitarist, vocalist (much underrated), and songwriter. It's true that he didn't really get to shine until their fourth album, but shine he did. Peter Tork was a multi-instrumentalist who was forced to act the buffoon on the show. He didn't come into his own as a vocalist until after The Monkees' heyday, but he could carry a tune despite being given only a very few opportunities to sing. Davy, well, Davy was Davy. Yes, he could sing. But for me it was like going into a sugar-induced coma. Way too icky sweet for me. He had a few good moments such as "She Hangs Out" and "Valeri", but there were those gawd-awful moments when he told us all about "The Day He Fell In Love" and that "He'd Be True to You". I get the shivers thinking about those songs now. And then there was his great "jawbone" playing on one of the albums. What, praytell, is a "jawbone" in the world of musical instruments.

Anyway, the truth is that the biggest rap against The Monkees was the whole "they weren't playing their own instruments" crud. Well, newsflash. In those days that was not uncommon. Every hear of "The Wrecking Crew"? Look 'em up. Guess what, with the exception of Brian Wilson playing a little on "Pet Sounds", the other Beach Boys didn't play on that album nor did they play on most of the albums from about 1965 onward. Yes, they could play their instruments, but they weren't as good as the pros were AND they were spending a lot of time on the road. Brian wrote most of their songs, but with help too. Van Dyke Parks and even Mike Loveshimselftoomuch wrote some lyrics. Remember, in the summer of 1966 when most of the first two albums by The Monkees were recorded they were also filming. Besides that the musical production was given to Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart for the most part with some songs being produced by Mike Nesmith and various other guest producers such as the songwriters of some of the songs. We're talking cream of the crop songwriters here. Neil Diamond, Boyce and Hart, King-Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Carol Bayer Sager, and list goes on. Those two albums are two of the best Pop albums to come out of the 60's. Maybe that's part of the problem too. The rock and roll snobs didn't like the word "Pop". Yet their heroes, The Beatles, were masters of Pop music. I love the song by The Byrds " So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star". But I hate the fact that Roger Mcguinn was poking fun at The Monkees with it. Yea, I know. The Byrds are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Monkees probably never will be. But they should be.

Sadly, by the time the Monkees wrestled control over the music with their third album, they were just not being taken seriously by the snobbies and to the pre-teen girls who loved them so much it just didn't matter. That third album, "Headquarters" is an excellent album. Most of the songs were written by them and they had creative control in the studio as well as they played most of the instruments. But nobody cared about that by then. So many of the groups that were thumbing their noses at The Monkees were not playing their own instruments or writing their songs. They still sounded good and got credit, but none of them stood up for The Monkees and said, "Hey, these guys really are talented and you should give them a fair chance." Why? Because the snobbies might have taken aim at them for standing up for The Monkees. Their fourth album was kind of weird. I like it much better today than I did at the time. Oh, I liked fully half or more of the songs at the time, but they were actually beyond my 12 year-old brain at the time. Mike Nesmith's vocals are outstanding. We got to hear a song or two by future mega-hit songwriters too. Harry Nilsson wrote "Cuddly-Toy" and Michael Martin Murphy wrote "What Am I Doing Hanging Round?" The latter of these two is probably my all-time favorite Monkee song. Oh, and let's not forget that the album also contained the Carol King-Gerry Goffin penned hit "Pleasant Valley Sunday". But then there was Davy doing "Star Collector" and someone or other ran amuck with the Moog Synthesyser. But the album has really grown on me through the years. Their last decent album (again, in my humble opinion) was "The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees". It's a success in that it has 4 good songs on it. "Daydream Believer", "Valeri", "I'll Be Back Upon My Feet Again", and "P.O. Box 9847". It suffers too much from Davy and the experimental, probably helped along with drugs, songs such as "Zor and Zam" and "Tapioca Tundra". Whatever that is. I don't want to get into what followed this album. Let's just say it was definitely headed in the wrong direction.

By 1969 The Monkees were unable to get a hit, Peter had already left, and they were just out of step with the progression of music. The only one of them that had success on his own was Mike. Some minor hits such as "Joanne" and then a decade later he had a great album called "Infinite Rider On The Big Dogma". I love that album and especially the song "Cruisin". Mike pioneered the music video format and won a Grammy for "Elephant Parts". Mickey and Davy couldn't seem to get past their Monkee glory days. Mickey should have had some hits in the 70's. He was certainly capable of it. Peter kind of went incognito for a few years. There was a resurgence in their popularity in the mid-80's when reruns of their old show became popular on MTV. But to be honest with you THE best Monkee album of all-time wasn't recorded in their heyday. Not even close. It was recorded and released in 2016. It's called "Good Times". There isn't a bad song on it and some of the songs are the final realization of their talents. Yes, Davy passed in 2012, but there are a couple of songs that they had recorded way back in the 60's that were never released (why is still a mystery) that feature Davy. So you do get the four of them.

All of this mumbo jumbo and now to my main point. These guys belong in the Hall of Fame. Their music was an inspiration for many musicians. I wanted to learn to the play the guitar after watching their show at 11 and 12. I am not the only person who was inspired by them. They had no less than 6 top 3 hit singles, 4 number 1 albums, and you hear their music on the radio all the time to this day. They belong in the Hall. They aren't the only ones that have suffered at the hands of the snobbies. Mention Paul Revere and The Raiders and many people think of their silly uniforms in their early days and they somehow or other got put in the "Pop" genre when they were rocking it with the best of them. Mark Lindsay had one of the best rock vocals ever and he wrote many of their hits and produced many of them as well. Their career spanned 6 years of making hits in a time when many bands were lucky to last a year. If the likes of Green Day and The Ramones are in the Hall, then Mark Lindsay and The Monkees should be. But we are talking about a bunch of dunderheads who took until 2017 to induct The Moody Blues and Chicago. In the words of Roger Waters, "Is there anybody in there?"

All Quiet On The Website Front

I have no idea if anybody is reading these posts. Although there is an easy way for someone to comment, nobody has done so today. So, I'm just going to assume that somebody out there is reading this. Sort of like a DJ on a small radio station in Botswalla, Texas who keeps talking assuming somebody is out there listening, but not actually having a clue if maybe he's the only person hearing his voice. I do know that the website has received 47 hits since last night. I guess it's possible that some of those were by accident or curiosity, but surely some of those hits were people who took the time to read my posts and check out other items on the website.

All of that said, I knew that leaving Facebook and social media was going to see a steep decline on the amount of known interactions with other people. Let's face it (no pun intended), Facebook, Twitter (which I have never done), and other such outlets are powerful. Facebook in particular. It's a freaking monster is what it is. But I refuse to feed the monster anymore.

It's been a mixed day for me. It started early around 6 a.m. I was very productive until about 2 o'clock this afternoon. By that time the rain had really started to (ahem) dampen things around here. As I write this, the rainfall total here on my place is just under 5 inches of rain for today. It has been some kind of year where rainfall has been concerned. I don't know that official total for my place or the county, but I do know that it's been way more than usual. In fact, the past two years have seen the area be wet most of the time. The only period of time that we didn't have a lot of rain was during July-August. That's typical though. Now, if you go back to 2011-2012 it was just the opposite. We suffered through an extended draught. I lost a lot of pine trees and some hard woods too due to the lack of rain then. Those trees have continued to rot and now with all the wet weather in the past two years the dead trees along the roads got waterlogged and came tumbling down. I have too get the tractor out and move the trees off the road quite a bit. Of course, if the county commissioner did his job, then I wouldn't have to do that as well as try to maintain the road leading to my house despite it being a county road. He's worthless as far as I'm concerned. Interestingly enough, he lives about 10 miles from me. The county road that goes by his house is in perfect shape up to his gate. Then it becomes a mud track. I'm planning on going to the next commissioner's court meeting where you can bring concerns you have. I have pictures for show and tell. His road versus the roads around my place which are in reality nothing more than creek beds due to he doesn't maintain them properly. He refuses to use the county equipment to dig ditches and install culverts so that the water doesn't simply run down the middle of the roads or cut deep trenches across them. The crazy thing is if he would fix the roads right to begin with, then maintaining them would be pretty simple. The truth is it's a good ole boy club and he picks and chooses who gets passable roads based on whether or not you're in the club. About 9 years ago he came to me and said that for $500 he would bring in rock on the road leading up to my house. I told him that my taxes already paid for the rock. So, ever since then my road is the last road to be graded and he refuses to do any preventative maintenance on it.

Anyway . . .

Since about 2 this afternoon I've been kind of in a funk. Can't do anything outside. Can't record due to the sound of rain too much. Can't do photography. Could write, but don't feel like it. I did manage to wash a couple of loads of clothes (what an exciting life!). I could watch a movie, but don't feel like that either. Rain is not my friend. There's just been too much of it. Since October I've had around 32 inches of rain which is 2/3's of a typical years total for the area. So, that amounts to 8 months of rainfall in only 2 months. I need to go out to West Texas where it doesn't rain like this. Would love to try out the new camera. But, there's a lot going on related to the holidays and any trip will have to wait until after Christmas.

Just for grins . . . If someone actually reads this, then make a one word comment. Just let me know that I'm not talking to the air.

Later,

Randy

Friday December 7, 2018

Today is my first day in nearly 10 years that I'm not tethered to Facebook or any other social media. I must tell you that it feels good. I seem to have more energy and more enthusiasm towards getting other things done. I sure don't miss the notifications on my cell phone. Those became very annoying. It was like I was being summoned by a command for attention by a petulant child. And like a fool, I just HAD to look on my phone to see who "liked" something, "posted something", "commented" on something, etc. Well, that's over. My time is my own time now.

Anyway, it's raining today but not in my heart! I got to visit with my daughter, son-in-law, and newest grandbaby, Ziva, yesterday. That little girl is so bright and such a joy to be with. Of course, all of my granddaughters are like that. Ziva and I spent some time just communing. She was most interested in my beard and the way that little girl giggles and smiles when I whistle the tune to "Winnie The Pooh" just steals my heart.

I'll be posting some new "stuff" in the next couple of days. I am revamping the website and in some sense re-learning it given I haven't spent much time lately on it. I hope that you are all having a glorious day and that the season of joy is upon you.

Later,

Randy

It's Done!

I have officially deleted my Facebook account. Well, actually it says that it won't be deleted for real for 30 days. They want to give you a chance to come back during that time. Not gonna happen. Just to show you how much time is wasted on social media sites such as Facebook, I downloaded everything from my account for 2018. I have been doing this yearly since I started on Facebook in 2009. Keeping in mind that the download is just for the first 11 months, it amounted to a zip file of 86 mb. That's just MY posts and so forth. Once extracted the figure goes way up. So, that's an awful lot of time spent just on Facebook this year. I plan on replacing that time with writing, photography, and recording. I'll be updating you HERE like I did on Facebook, but without all the aggravation associated with Facebook. 

I sure hope to hear from my friends via this website. I guess if one can't be bothered to click on my website for updates, then perhaps one won't really miss me at all. I'll miss you guys if you don't.

Take care,

Randy

A Thanksgiving Story by James R. Stout

     When I was in my mid-20’s I worked for a major bus line. There were really only two such companies in America at that time. I had graduated from college 3 years earlier and my job was to travel from town to town to the major hubs and oversee marketing and advertising in the hubs. It wasn’t exactly a glamourous job and it didn’t appear to hold much in the way of a bright future, but it was a stepping stone to better things for a marketing career. The incident that I’m about to tell you happened in November of 1972. 

     I had gotten to know many of the workers at the hub in one of the largest cities in Texas. It was a time when Houston had a booming economy. People still rode the bus a lot in those days. We were a little worried about the effects of a certain airline that was flying for peanuts. They were starting to hurt our business because they were offering flights between major cities within Texas for as little as $15 one-way. We just couldn’t compete with that price and get our passengers to their destination in nearly the time that an airline could. But, we were starting to make new routes to the places that the airlines couldn’t go. Well, to tell the truth we had already been going to those towns, but we were now accentuating the towns in our marketing campaigns.
     I had become friends with a man in the Houston hub that had a position called “service worker”. It was a thankless job for the most part and I was very glad that I wasn’t stuck in such a job. But you would never have thought that Manny Padilla was unhappy. I honestly don’t believe he was capable of being truly unhappy. He was perhaps one of the most friendly and positive people I’ve ever met. Manny was older than me by about 7 or 8 years. He was married to a wonderful woman named Juana which translated means “God’s gift” and they had 4 kids ages 1 to 9. Manny didn’t make much money in his job. But he was glad to have the job. It mainly entailed the cleaning of the inside and outside of the buses when they were in the hub which could be hard work and sometimes gross given some of the messes left behind in the restrooms on the buses. But Manny was a cheerful worker and he took pride in his work. He wanted to do his part in making sure our customers travelled in clean and pleasant environments.
     This particular day was the day before Thanksgiving of that year. There were a lot of travelers taking to the roads via our bus line headed to visit relatives and loved ones for the holiday. Our last bus out that day would leave at 7:45 p.m. I was wanting to get home to my parent’s house about an hour north of Houston, but there were things that needed to be done to make sure we were ready for the next day of business. Manny would be getting off work at 9 p.m. given he would need to clean some of the buses to make sure that they were ready for service. The lobby of the station would be open until about 9 p.m. to give travelers a place to wait for pick-up by loved ones. By about 8:45 there was only one person left sitting in the lobby. Manny and I were talking just inside the lobby when Manny took notice of the elderly gentleman sitting alone in a corner of the lobby.
I watched as Manny walked over to the man. I thought that Manny was going to let the old gentleman know it was almost closing time, but that’s not what happened.
“Excuse me, sir.” Manny said to the old man. “Can I help you?”
     The old man was dressed in a worn suit that probably had been bought off the rack a decade before. It was badly in need of cleaning and pressing. He wore an equally battered hat, wrinkled but clean shirt, and a pair of worn at the heels Brogans. His fingers were gnarled and bent from arthritis and he was in need of a shave given the gray stubble on his face was a week past its last cutting. He had thinning white hair and bushy white eyebrows. Despite his age and station in life his eyes were clear and bright, and I was immediately struck by the feeling of joy that his eyes seemed to exude. 
     “Well, young fella, I should be fine here tonight. It’s warm and safe and I’ve certainly spent the night in worse situations”, the old man replied.
I knew what was coming next. I almost cringed at the thought of being the one to tell the old man the bad news. But, Manny broke it to the old man in a kind way. If there is such a thing.
     “Sir, I’m most sorry, but you cannot spend the night in the station. We will be closing in a few minutes and the place must be cleared of any customers. Is there somebody that I can call for you?” Manny asked.
     The old man, who had not yet introduced himself, pursed his lips and you could see that he was concerned about this news. But he didn’t argue or get belligerent or anything of that nature. He just sighed and rubbed his chin with his arthritic hand contemplating his situation. Finally, he spoke.
     “I see. That does sort of present a problem. You wouldn’t happen to know if there’s a YMCA or shelter nearby would you? He asked.
I could see Manny’s mind working in overdrive. Not meaning to appear to be mocking the old man, Manny rubbed his chin with his considerably younger and better conditioned hands while he considered the question.
     “Well, sir. By the way, my name is Manny Padilla.” He said.
     “Ahh, yes. Pardon me for not introducing myself. People call me Dewey or Dew for short.” 
     “Mr. Dewey, let me ask you a question.” Manny said. “Do you have anyone that we can call for you?”
     “It’s Dewey Michaels, but Dew will, a-hem, do.” He said with a chuckle. “No sir, I have no family and all of my friends have gone on to be with the Lord. I’m afraid I’m just a wayfaring stranger these days.”
     Manny scrunched up his face and I for just a moment our eyes met. I knew what was coming next because I knew Manny. 
     “Mr. Dew, how would you like to come and spend the night with my family and share Thanksgiving dinner with us tomorrow. I can bring you back to the station on Friday morning and I feel certain that I can get you a ticket to just about any place that you might wish to go.”
     Dewey Michaels looked at Manny with what I would call way more than gratitude. I was afraid that he would decline the offer though in lieu of pride, but much to my surprise he said,

 “Well, now if you’re sure and you’re sure that the missus won’t mind, then I would enjoy that very much.” Dewey replied.
I found myself being a tad on the negative side and I was immediately embarrassed of my thoughts. But they were there anyway. First, Manny didn’t know what kind of person Dewey was. Didn’t have a clue. Second, I knew that Manny and his family were living in already tight quarters. A small 2-bedroom house on the near northside of Downtown Houston. It was always neat and clean (Juana wouldn’t have it any other way!), but it was very small. The three older kids shared a bedroom while Manny, Juana, and the baby shared the other. I supposed that Dewey could sleep on the couch, but it was going to be crowded once Dewey’s mother, sister and her family, and Manny’s two brothers and their families were there for the dinner. But it was Manny’s wish to be helpful to the old man. 
I was just about to leave and head home when I walked over to Manny who was doing the same and I slipped him a $20 bill. I told him to make sure that Dewey had some money in his pocket when he got on a bus on Friday. Manny grinned from ear to ear and winked at me.
     “Will do, Dave. And you have a great Thanksgiving dinner!”
     I wished him the same and left the station. All the way to my parent’s house I thought about what an incredibly selfless thing that Manny was doing. It made me proud to call him friend. I would be leaving on Friday for San Antonio then to Austin, El Paso, Lubbock, Amarillo, Ft. Worth, and Dallas, returning to Houston in about two weeks. I would have to wait to find out how things went.
     Two weeks came and went pretty quickly, and I once again made my way to the Houston station. I saw Manny as he exited a bus with a bag of trash in one hand and a broom in the other. I walked over, and we exchanged greetings. I had to ask him.
     “So, how did the visit with Dewey go on Thanksgiving?”
     “Oh, it was wonderful! He was a delight. He entertained the kids with stories of his youth and then when he saw my Dad’s old guitar leaning up against the wall in a corner he took it and you wouldn’t believe how amazing he was on that thing. He played flamingo style and I tell you I’ve never heard any better. Everyone was mesmerized by his ability. And he could sing too! Before it was over with several of the neighbors came over too and we all sat on the floor listening to him play. He told us about his time working in Spain as a young man and the civil war there and how he barely escaped over some big mountain range into France. Then he said that he was in France when Germany invaded, and he had to escape to England. He made his way back home to America and joined the Army Air Corps. He became a pilot and ended up flying missions into Germany during the war. He said he came home after the war and started a business, but then it was time to eat our dinner and I didn’t get to hear any more about his life.”
     “That’s incredibly cool, Manny. I guess he got off OK on that Friday?” I asked.
     “Oh, yes. And he said to be sure and tell you how much he appreciated the $20. I got him on a bus to Phoenix, Arizona where he said he thought he might have an old friend that he could stay with for a week or so. I still can’t get over how well he played the guitar with those arthritic hands. I can only imagine how well he played when he was younger!”

 

     Time seemed to fly by over the next year. I saw Manny from time to time and then in December of 1973, a little more than a year after we met Dewey, I was offered a wonderful marketing job for a major retailer. It was a huge pay increase and I was exited to embark on a new adventure. On my last trip to the Houston station I wanted to say goodbye to Manny and take him out to lunch. We were just about to leave for our favorite Italian restaurant in downtown Houston when a man in a very expensive suit entered the lobby. You couldn’t help but notice him. He was out of place in a bus station. I looked past him into the parking lot and saw a shiny new Cadillac and figured it had to be his. We saw him walk up to the ticket counter and then the ticket agent pointed in our direction. The man thanked the agent and then headed our way. I couldn’t imagine what such a man as this would be wanting to talk to either of us about.
     The man walked up and extended his hand to Manny and introduced himself as Paul Windsor. He also shook my hand and amazingly he knew my name as well.
     “Gentleman, could I have a few minutes of your time? I promise it will be worthwhile.” He said.
Manny and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and both said “sure” at the same time. Mr. Windsor invited us to step outside and have a seat in his Cadillac. It was one of those stretch limos with two rear seats that faced each other. We had never before been in such a car before and were both wide-eyed at the luxury. Mr. Windsor began to speak after we were all seated and enjoying the warmth of the heated interior.
     “First, Mr. Padilla let me ask you a question. Do you recall meeting a man about a year ago named Dewey Michaels?”
     “Sure! He was great guy. A real sweet old man.” Manny replied.
     “Yes, yes he was that and so much more.” Mr. Windsor said.
     “How about you Mr. Quincy?” he asked me.
     “Sure. I remember him, and I too thought he was a really nice man. Has something happened to him?” I asked.
     “Yes, I’m afraid so, Mr. Quincy. But let me tell you a few things that you couldn’t possibly have known about Mr. Michaels. Following World War 2 he started a manufacturing business. It was a small operation at first, but then he proved to be a most inventive and intuitive businessman. He took that small business and within a decade it was one of the largest suppliers of parts for large machinery in the construction and demolition trade. He then branched out and started a tool company, an airline, a large theater chain, a candy company, and even a motorcycle company catering to both the American and European market. By 1960 he was a multi-billonaire.”
By this time, you could have shoveled a dump truck load of dirt into mine and Manny’s open mouths. We were flabbergasted. You would never have guessed that the kindly old man that we met was that successful. Mr. Windsor continued.
     “Then, in late 1968 tragedy struck in Mr. Michaels life. His wife, their son and his family, and several close friends had gone on ahead by plane to an island resort where they would all spend Thanksgiving together. Mr. Michaels was to follow the next day after clearing up some last-minute negotiations for the purchase of a coffee plantation. Sadly, the airplane carrying his family and friends developed engine trouble over the Gulf of Mexico and was lost at sea. There were no survivors. In a few short minutes Mr. Michaels lost his entire family and loved ones. He was devastated. He lost his heart for his businesses as well. He appointed trusted employees to helm each business and he decided to travel. But not the kind of travel you might think. He took with him very little. A change of clothes, a little cash, and a hope at finding something good in a world that now seemed beyond sad to him. Frankly, we were all very concerned for his safety and well-being, but he insisted and after all, he was literally the boss.”
     “Over the past three years he traveled by thumb, occasionally by public transportation such as the bus line where you two are employed, and by foot at times. He would check in with his office about once a month to make sure things were running smoothly. He still had a lot of employees worldwide that depended on their jobs”.
He stopped for a moment to gather his thoughts and then continued.
     “Now, to the part where you two come into the story. His spirit was restored by the kindness that Manny and his family showed him last Thanksgiving. He once again learned to smile. He once again found joy. The simple kindness of a stranger restored his faith and hope. He returned to us at corporate headquarters about 6 months ago. But he didn’t pick-up and start working for money and such. Instead, he started to give back to world, one person at a time according to their need, and he was indeed a changed man. Amazingly, his businesses grew and grew and grew beyond all expectations. He once again attended church and made sure that the coffers were filled in many different congregations from Baptist to Catholic to Methodist to all denominations. He did so anonymously and there was an underground whispering about an angel visiting this church and then that church and bestowing blessings. But in Mr. Michaels’ mind he was receiving the blessings. He was truly thankful to God for all the blessings he had known. There wasn’t an ounce of bitterness in him at the end over the loss of his family.”
     Manny and I were both finding it hard to not cry at this point. We had no idea that Manny’s act of kindness and even my simple donation of $20 could have started such a turn around in Mr. Michaels’ life. Mr. Windsor continued.
     “About two months ago Mr. Michaels started to feel poorly. He was having a lot of pain in his abdomen. At first, he thought it might be an ulcer or something of that nature, but when it became nearly unbearable he sought the help of doctors. They did all kinds of tests and poked and prodded and through it all Mr. Michaels kept his joy. He still managed to smile. Finally, the bad news was delivered. He had pancreatic cancer. It was past any hope of treatment. He was told that he had perhaps 4 to 6 weeks to live. Mr. Michaels spent the next three weeks getting things finalized for his considerable estate. He had no family to leave it to. But he had some beloved employees and then he had you.”
Manny and I looked at each other in bewilderment. How was it possible that this man would think of Manny and I from only a day or so of time spent with him?
     Mr. Windsor looked at me and said, “Mr. Quincy, Mr. Michaels has left you a small amount of money from his estate. It’s not that much, but it should be enough to make sure you are debt free for now and can start your new job, a job at one of Mr. Michaels’ many businesses, with a bright future ahead. He left you $100,000 dollars to do with as you see fit. He hopes that you will spend or invest it wisely and he felt sure that you would. A great deal of investigation into your life was made prior to this bequeath. Mr. Padilla, Mr. Michaels wanted to make sure that you and your family have a better future than you might otherwise have had. He has set-up a college annuity for each of your children. They will be able to go to the best of schools, but it also depends on their dedication and hard work. He has also left you an inheritance of 1 Million dollars. He felt sure this would provide you with a new home large enough for your family, proper transportation, and the many things that you have gone without. Furthermore, he wanted you to start training at one of his businesses in a field that you feel called to and a place will be made for you and you will be welcomed with open arms.”
     Well, you could have knocked us over with a whisper. It was just unbelievable. We spent another hour talking to Mr. Windsor obtaining information on how to proceed and then he left us his private phone number with instructions to contact him at anytime with any questions. We watched as that limousine drove away and then despite how it might look to anyone watching, we gave each other a huge hug. Mr. Michaels had passed away two weeks prior and we were both sad that we would never get a chance to thank him for his incredible kindness and generosity. 
     That was all 45 years ago. Manny passed on a few months ago, but he worked for 40 years as the maintenance supervisor for one of Mr. Michaels’ businesses. He learned to fly, obtaining his pilot’s license and on many occasions, he flew me and my family along with his family for trips to places like Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, and once to Hawaii. All of his children graduated from college. One went on to become a surgeon, one became a minister, one has made a career in the United States Army having graduated from West Point and at this point holds the rank of Lt. Colonel, and then the baby has become an executive at a coffee company. I’m sure you can guess how that came about! Juana is still alive and lives in the same house that they bought in West Houston back in 1974. As for me, I got married in 1976 to a wonderful lady and we had two children. They have both made me very proud and have blessed us with 6 grandkids. 
     The businesses that Mr. Michaels owned have mostly flourished with some ups and downs along with the economy, but they have provided literally hundreds of thousands of families with jobs and lives. Every Thanksgiving for 44 years we got together as one big huge family with my family and Manny’s family. We have all had so much to be thankful for. When I think of the tragedy of Mr. Michaels’ loss of his family and how he dealt with that loss I am reminded of a great hymn. It’s called, “It Is Well With My Soul”. We should all remember to be thankful to God not only on Thanksgiving Day, but every day. No matter what comes our way we must remember the rich blessings that God has bestowed on us, even the ones that don’t seem to be blessings at first. So, go out and be thankful for what you have instead of being sad at what you don’t have. Happy Thanksgiving!

December 5, 2018 - Update

I thought perhaps a short preview of some things to come here on jamesrstout.com would be in order. I suppose it's the perfectionist in me (others who know me might say I'm obsessive compulsive, but hey . . .), but I'm going to number these things for you. 

1. I will be posting a short story that I recently wrote and featured on Facebook. 

2. I will be updating the photos on this website. There's plenty more to share. The important thing to note about this is that I will NOT be making them available for sale. In fact, I will be dropping the "store" page altogether and will no longer offer any photos for sale. I just want to share them with you. If you REALLY feel the need to have your very own copy of one of the photos, then contact me and I'll make it happen.

3. I am currently working on a bunch of new recordings. Once they are completed I will be sharing them here. Most likely via YouTube or some such avenue. I am contemplating allowing the download of some of these new recordings FOR FREE! I'm at a point in life where I'm not trying to make my mark on the world. I just want to share some of my "stuff" with you.

4. I have begun the research phase of what will end up being either a book or possibly a series of books. I won't say much about it right now, but take my word for it when I tell you that it will be a special project. Perhaps the biggest and best thing that I have ever done. It will likely be nearly a year before it's done, but you'll be hearing more about it as things progress.

5. Some of you know that I was working on a book this year. Well, it's pretty much finished. However, I have decided to hold it back at this time. It will likely be tied into the above mentioned book and I don't want to get ahead of myself with this. I may post some excerpts of the completed book just for feedback from you.

Well, that's about it for now. Please come back and visit me often. I will be making updates to this website as time permits. I'm doing it all myself, so it won't be like I have a staff that can do a lot of this for me. So, please be patient.

Thanks!

Anti-Social Media

Dear Reader,

After much thought and consideration I have decided to remove myself from the "social media" circus. Essentially, I'm talking about Facebook. There are several reasons for this decision. First, things have gotten so political. While I definitely believe in voting and taking a stand for my beliefs, I have become disenchanted with the far too many political posts on social media sites such Facebook. Furthermore, most of the posts that I see are negative and downright nasty. I don't know about you, but I simply don't want to fill my time up with negative thoughts. Both sides are guilty of posting negative and mean-spirited posts about the other side. We are never going to get anywhere with that kind of process.

Second, the main two reasons that I have been on Facebook have been to keep up with friends and family and to share my photography, writing, and music. It occurs to me that the former of these two simply shouldn't be done on Facebook. I would prefer to talk on the phone, text, or email with my friends and family. Facebook is actually too impersonal and addictive. The latter of these two reasons can be accomplished via my website. No, the reach won't be what it currently is or appears to be via Facebook. But then, if a person can't bother to bookmark my website and go there from time to time to "visit" with me, then perhaps we don't have a report to begin with. Have we really become so lazy that we can't make a couple of mouse clicks to stay in touch? I hope not.

Thirdly, Facebook and other sites like it truly are addictive. The release of dopamine in our brains due to how many "likes" and comments we get is a fact. I don't want to be addicted to anything. Do you? I have decided to "just say no" to Facebook.

Finally, the complete waste of time spent on social media is alarming and should be embarrassing to all of us. Think about it. Isn't there something better to do than view ads that we don't really want to see, read all about what someone is eating for lunch, and keep-up with the minute details in a person's life that too often are exaggerated at best and downright made-up at worst?

I have things that I want to accomplish. I'm betting that you do too. I find it hard to get those things done if I spend hours a day on social media. Hey, I'm even deleting Solitaire from my phone. I couldn't believe how much time I have wasted playing that game when I could have been doing something constructive. I have things to write, music to record, and photography to do. Those things are in addition to the everyday parts of life that we all have. 

Do I want to keep up with you? Yes, but not via social media. Email me and I'll reply. If you know me well, then call me on the phone once in a while. I promise to do the same. I hope that you all understand why I'm making this decision to remove myself from Facebook. You DO matter to me. I DO want feedback from you. The sad truth is that I have something like 170 Facebook "friends". Some of them I've never met or even spoken to before. A core group of perhaps a third of those 170 souls actually interact with me via likes and such. 

So, dear friends and readers, please bookmark my website. Come and visit me once in a while. I will be updating the site with information on my writing projects, my photography, and my music. I hope to hear from you from time to time. Just for the record . . . 

jamesrstout.com

ranout09@yahoo.com

Thanks and God bless you!

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