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James R. Stout


2 Longs, 1 Short

            I have been working hard on my book. I’m currently going through the editing process and I believe the editing process is much harder than writing the book was! Decisions, decisions, and more decisions. Part of the process has been coming up with the book cover. I think I’ve got the one I want to use, but throughout the process I have tried different designs. I was looking through an old trunk that had been my great-great-Grandmother’s trunk originally. It was likely made in about 1860. It went through some changes along the way including a cloth cover, but it is mostly the way it was 160 years ago on the inside. I was looking for a copy of Life Magazine that I knew was in the trunk. It’s the issue following the assassination of JFK. I found the magazine and when I picked it up something fell out of it that must have been put there decades ago. What you ask? Well, it’s a small thin booklet that was given out by a local bank during Christmas of 1958. It was actually a calendar with each day of 1959 allowing space for a note to be written. To my delight I found that it was a daily journal that my Grandmother kept that year.

            She was very diligent in keeping the journal. Every day has something written no matter how unimportant or seemingly insignificant. But the best part was that it gives a great insight into the daily lives of my grandparents as well as notes on their children’s lives and grandchildren’s lives. I’m one of the latter. I turned 4 years old in September of that year. I have some memories of those days, but they are not as organized in my mind as later years of my childhood. Still, I do remember certain things. The best part of this journal is that it is proof of that my memories are real and accurate. In my book I mention spending time at my grandparent’s farm when I was little. In the journal my Grandmother notes on November 22nd, a Sunday, that “The Stouts went home after lunch today and Randy stayed with us.” Two weeks later my Grandmother wrote that “The Stouts picked up Randy today.”

            There were other entries that year that showed I stayed with my grandparents for a combined 6 weeks. That doesn’t count the once a month visits the whole family made for a weekend. Some of Grandma’s other entries were very short and to the point. One day she simply wrote, “Bad cough today.” Another one said, “Sold 2 dozen eggs.” The weather seemed to be one of the major things she wrote about. Something as simple as “Rained all day” or “Cold front came through last night.”

            In early November she mentions that she made three sets of pajamas and two nightgowns. I’ll attach a picture of me, my sisters, and my cousins in our matching pajamas of which she mentioned. I knew the picture was from either 1959 or 1960. Now I know for sure it was in 1959. Besides the journal part of the booklet there are spaces for noting phone numbers for friends and family. At that time, they still had their old crank phone. My Grandfather’s best friend, Little John Shaw” (also my Grandmother’s 1st cousin), lived nearby. He was one of 8 members of a party line on the small local system. Grandma noted that Little John’s ring was changed to 1 long, 2 shorts. There were no numbers and no dialing on those old phones. You rang someone by calling using long and short rings in a combination. My grandparent’s ring was 2 longs, 1 short. Just the opposite of Little John’s. I used to get very confused about all that.

            I remember the way the dining room was during those days. The phone was in the corner of one wall. It was never intended to be used for a long conversation. Phones in those days were for short and to the point communications. No chair to sit and chat. You also had to know your own ring because if any of the 8 members made or received a call the phone rang. If it wasn’t your ring, then you didn’t answer it. In another corner was a small three-tiered shelf. It contained a brush for my Grandmother’s hair, a box of Band-aids, a couple of hair pins for my Grandmother, a comb for my grandfather, and on the bottom shelf there was a notepad. I’m guessing that the journal was kept on these shelves in 1959. It would be just the right place for it.

            Well, thinking on all of this and reading through the journal has been very enjoyable. It allowed me the ability to live that year through my Grandmother’s eyes instead of my memories which are tinted with being a young child at the time. Do you keep a journal of some kind? Probably not a handwritten journal, but if you are on Facebook every day, then a record is being kept. But even that isn’t the same as a handwritten journal. Facebook entries are intended for an audience whether we want to admit it or not. But a journal or diary is just you and your thoughts that are initially for your consumption only. However, 60 years later your journal could be a treasure, a souvenir, for your grandchildren. These are the things that my book, “Souvenirs from a Life” dwell on. You’ll be hearing more about the book as it gets closer to print time. In the meantime, write something down and keep it for your grandchildren to enjoy 60 or 70 years from now.

Christmas of 1959

Top row: My sisters Debbie and Barbara

Bottom Row: Me, and Cousins David and Phil

Big Boy Britches

            I was talking to my brother-in-law today and we started to talk about things that we did when we were kids. Things that would likely kill us today or leave us permanently handicapped. We both remembered climbing up on the roof of a house and thinking nothing of jumping off the roof to the ground below. When I was about 12 years old, I would climb up on the roof via a fence gate and pretend to be a pilot of a P-51 Mustang during WW2. I would become an ace every time and then would get my plane shot up resulting in me having to bailout. Bailing out meant I jumped from the roof, did my best tuck and roll, and came up on my feet ready for another plane to pilot.

            Another thing that I did in those days was the old “Look Ma, no hands!” routine. Only I took it a few steps further. I would get my bike up to speed, probably 25 miles an hour going down the hill of one of the roads in our neighborhood, and then very carefully stand on the seat. It’s a wonder I didn’t get seriously injured.

            I also liked to run up to the swing set in our backyard, grab the rings, swing up and over and then on the return swing do a backflip. The goal was to land on my feet and end up as far from the swing set as possible. For a while I was into the backflip thing beyond the norm. I would climb up into the tree in our front yard, a large Arizona Ash, and hang upside down from a limb about 8 feet off the ground. When I was ready to return to Earth, I simply swung myself a couple of times then let go of the limb with my legs and do the obligatory backflip. I also would climb the chain link fence in our back yard and balance on top of it and then do a backflip.

             My cousins and I would have dirt clod wars when we would get together at the farm or at their weekend cabin in East Texas. Some of those dirt clods could really sting. Things eventually got out of hand when my oldest cousin started to take a soft piece of dirt and wrap it around a rock. It looked like a dirt clod, but it was more like a missile when he threw it. Things escalated from there. The dirt clods were replaced by rocks and it would all come to an end when one of us got hit hard enough to threaten to tell the other’s parents.

            Somehow or other we all survived and had no lasting scars or broken bones. Well, all of this stuff came to mind as I talked to my brother-in-law today. After I got back home, I reflected on our conversation and on a few more things as well. The years start to pile up on us. At first, we don’t really take much notice. At 20 I was able to do just about anything that I had done when I was 12. But by the time I was 30 my body was not quite as limber as it had been. That was partly due to not exercising or being as active as I had been as a child, but it also had to do with the effects of time and wear and tear on my body. I remember playing a game of baseball with the youth group that I was the youth director at a church when I was 33. I still had the power in my swing, but my legs weren’t nearly as fast as they once were. I started to understand why baseball players retire in their 30’s. I used to wonder why they couldn’t keep playing until they were 50. Time and wear and tear. I crushed a pitch into centerfield well over the centerfielder’s head. I made it to second base huffing and puffing from the exertion. One of the kids looked at me and said, “If I had hit the ball that far, then I would have a homer.” No doubt. There was a time when I would have to.

            I fought off a potentially deadly illness in my 40’s and between fighting it off, aging, and the side effects of some of the drugs that I had to take to beat the disease, I was not able to do much of anything that I had been able to only 10 or so years before. I don’t know how it is with anyone else, but for me the years between 55 and 65 are years that you come to realize that you are indeed getting older. At 55, I was still getting out and doing some pretty hard work on my ranch. I had mostly recovered from my previous illness, but my stamina wasn’t what it once was. Still, I got out there and thought nothing of working in the heat clearing brush, trimming trees, mowing, repairing, etc. But by the time I turned 60 those things had become increasingly harder to do. I was also slowing down at work and I was dealing with a lot of things related to my parents. Dad passed away that year and I was needing to help more and more with my mother.

            The next two years were very difficult. We lost Mom and my sister Barbara as well as 4 aunts, 2 uncles, a cousin, and my son-in-law. I admit that during that time I didn’t take very good care of myself. It seemed that all of my energy was being used up taking care of Mom until her death and the other issues mentioned. About a month after Mom passed away, I started to pay attention to myself again. I had drastically slowed down. I retired, but I was finding it harder to do those things that had been easy just 8 years ago.

            Now I’m less than a month from turning 64. I still get out and mow and do what has to be done, but it takes me much longer and it takes a couple of days to recuperate. I went to the doctor recently about weakness in my legs. I have started to use a cane at times if I have to be on my feet for a long period of time. I’m going to a specialist on my birthday (that was the next available appointment with a neurologist) to see if he can figure out what the problem is. My doctor threw around some possible causes when I went to see him last month and none of them sounded like any fun at all. But the one thing that I think I fear more than a diagnosis of a serious illness is that they won’t find anything and that I will be told that I’m just getting old. I don’t feel old in my mind. I’m still me. I still love to have fun and to me I still think like a young person. Maybe not a young person of today, but a young person the way I once was. But all I have to do is go outside to do something that was once simple, but is now painful and hard to do, and I realize how different my body is now. Heck, I’ve even managed to lose 40 pounds since this spring. Still, my legs are weaker each day. I needed to do a small repair to the outside of my house last month. It required me to stoop down for about 5 minutes in order to drill some screw holes. By the time I finished the drilling my legs were so weak that I couldn’t stand back up. Finally, I steadied myself against the house and was able to stand back up straight. I could hardly walk though because my legs just didn’t have the strength. I stood there for a few minutes and then painfully started to walk around on my drive. I must have looked like Tim Conway doing his” Oldest Man Alive” routine.

            I don’t like this new thing one bit. But then, I’m mighty glad to be alive. If I have to use a cane more and more in the future, then so be it. I will do what it takes to go see my granddaughters. I will do what it takes to take care of my home and land. I just have to accept that I’ll be slower in doing those things. I generally dislike praying to God for selfish reasons. There are so many people in much worse situations than I am. But I do pray that God will give me some relief or at least the wisdom to know my limitations and the willingness to deal with them as best as I can. At least I can still type, read, write, and communicate. I honestly believe that I am a positive influence in the lives of my granddaughters. I pray that God will allow me to continue to be such. Growing old or being sick is part of life. That doesn’t mean we give up though. I mowed two acres on Thursday in 95-degree heat. It needed doing and I put on my big boy britches and did what I had to do. With God’s grace, I’ll be able to keep putting on those britches for some time to come.

Bullitt, The Gun-Shy Dog

            My grandparents always had a dog. It was pretty much a necessity for living on a farm. In about 1942 they got a Leopard Dog and named him “Lep”. I have very vague memories of him from my early childhood. Lep died in 1959 at the age of 17. There were many stories told about Lep after his passing. He was said to be the best hunting dog, especially coons, in the county. I heard all the stories and there was not only a lot of respect for Lep in those stories, but a whole lot of love. After Lep passed my grandfather took in a stray and named him Tramp. Tramp had a bad habit of chasing cars as they went past the house. Apparently, he irritated one too many drivers and after chasing a truck one day he never came back. A few days later my grandfather found Tramp in a ditch about a mile down the road. He had been run over by a vehicle.

            Tramp was barely cold in the ground when Grandpa got Bullitt. He was named after Roy Rogers’ dog. But the name was the only thing he had in common with Roy’s Bullitt. Bullitt was a friendly dog and playful, but as the old saying goes, “That dog don’t hunt.” When he was just a puppy it was Christmas of 1961. In those days one of the Christmas gifts the grandsons got was a package of Black Cat Firecrackers. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like giving a 6-year-old boy some explosives. But truth be told, we were well monitored by our parents. Mom was afraid that I would blow off a finger and she would yell “Throw it, Randy!” almost before I could light one. Dad had the best hearing of anyone that I ever knew. Even in old age he could hear what you whispered to someone else in the next room. His livelihood depended on his good hearing. Thus, he watched the fireworks with both hands pressed firmly on his ears. Grandpa was losing his hearing and didn’t seem to hardly notice.

            Well, no firecrackers were thrown at Bullitt or any such horrible thing, but the noise scared the poor dog so much that he spent the night cowering under the house. To a dog, there isn’t much difference between the sound of a firecracker and a .22 rifle. It didn’t take long for Bullitt to learn that the long stick that Grandpa had went boom. So, all Grandpa had to do was take the .22 rifle down from the gun rack and Bullitt went slap dab crazy. (Dad’s description) This became quite the embarrassment for my grandfather. He had once been the proud owner of the best hunting dog in the county and now he had a dog that ran under the house whenever the .22 was near. I remember one time when a coon got in the garage and Grandpa headed out with the .22 to take care of business. Bullitt wanted so bad to check out the critter in the garage, but that .22 scared him to death. He ran around in circles, fit to be tied as they say, not knowing what to do. With tail hung low and whimpering loudly, he finally crawled under the house. Meanwhile, during all that ruckus the coon managed to escape. Poor Grandpa just stood there dumbfounded. He finally headed back to the house, shaking his head the whole way, and muttering under his breath something about “that dab nab dog”.

            Grandpa did come to love Bullitt, but he was always embarrassed by Bullitt’s cowardice. At the end of March in 1967 Bullitt went missing. He just disappeared. My grandparents also had a cat named Tiger that they had gotten when Bullitt was a puppy. Tiger went missing too. We didn’t think much about Tiger being gone because he had become half-feral living on the farm and would be gone for days tomcatting around. But when both came up missing it raised concern. They say that some animals can sense things that we humans can’t. Our family would later wonder if perhaps that was true. During the week of April 17 Grandpa was building a new fence on a part of the farm. In fact, the exact spot where he was working can be seen from the front porch of my house. He came home for lunch on that Thursday and complained of heartburn. Apparently, he had been having heartburn all week. Grandma insisted that he go see the doctor the next day. Well, the doctor examined Grandpa the next day and told him that he didn’t have heartburn. He informed my grandparents that Grandpa had been having little heart attacks all week. In his 67 years of life, Grandpa had never spent a day in the hospital. But he had to spend that Friday night in the little hospital in Crockett, Texas.

            On April 22, 1967 at about 10 a.m. Grandpa, Grandma, and my Aunt Velma were visiting in Grandpa’s hospital room. My grandmother noticed that Grandpa had gotten quiet and asked if he was feeling OK. Grandpa told Grandma that his chest was hurting something fierce. My Aunt Velma went to get a doctor. While she was gone Grandpa clutched his chest, raised up in the bed, and then passed out. The doctor came running into the room and tried CPR, but it was too late. He turned to my Grandmother and said, “I’m afraid he’s gone, Mrs. Parker.” It changed our world.

            Did Bullitt and Tiger know something like this was going to happen? Probably not, but it does make you wonder. With the passage of time the pain of the loss of Grandpa subsided. We started remembering all the good times. As an adult, I look back on Bullitt, The Gun-Shy Dog and all of his wacky ways and I have to chuckle. I know more now about how my grandfather must have felt when Bullitt would run like a scalded dog under the house at just the sight of that wicked fire stick. If all dogs go to Heaven, then I suppose Bullitt is up there now. I have to wonder though. When the Heavenly choir reaches a crescendo, does Bullitt run and hide under St. Peter’s robe?

Picture of Bullitt, me, and Our1961 Ford Galaxie 500 in 1962

Thank You, Mr. Rogers

In the summer of 1986, my little family began a 4-year journey. I was 30 years old through the summer but would turn 31 in September. My wife was 27, my son was 2 and my daughter was 1. The journey was the journey we went through as I started college and pursued a college diploma. It was a journey with the intentions of making a better life for our family. I’ll tell you all about parts of that journey later. But for now, I want to tell you about a particular period of time. I had a whopping 6 hours of credit from a previous attempt at a college education from the summer of 1978. That’s a whole other story though. My initial goal was to get a degree in Professional Writing from the University of Houston. But there were a whole bunch of core classes that had to be taken first. It had been 14 years since I had been a math class. I had not done well in math in high school, so I had to take a 3-hour basic math class to get up to speed. It had been 12 years since my last English class. The college required me to take a basic English class to make sure I was up to speed. Those six hours would not count towards my degree. I tell you this so that you will understand that starting in the fall of 1986 I took what was considered a “full load” of classes. 12 credit hours, 6 of which would not go towards my degree and I hadn’t been in a classroom for 8 years. It was going to be a challenge.

Now for some craziness for you. My wife took a full-time job in a field that she had previous experience. I took a job working four nights a week at Dominoes Pizza as a pizza delivery driver. I worked Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights. I also worked any extra hours that I could on days that school wasn’t in session such as the Christmas holidays etc. I went to school Tuesday and Thursday nights from 5:30-10:00 p.m. plus I took a 3-hour class on Saturday mornings from 9 till noon. There were some variations to this schedule depending on the semester, but it generally was this way for about 2 years. My time to study and work on research projects was during the kids nap time or after I got home from delivering pizzas. But the most important part of those two years was my being our kid’s primary caregiver Monday through Friday. We couldn’t afford to pay for day-care. We barely made ends meet as it was. It got really tricky the last two years when most of my classes were during the daytime. But that’s for another time.

I loved being with my kids during this time period. While I longed for sleep at times, being with them was so fulfilling and very important to all of our lives. My wife knew the kids were safe and loved during the day, I was able to bond with my kids the way most father’s (at least in those days) didn’t have a chance to do, and the schedule worked out a way for me to go to college.

We developed a routine that worked for us. My wife would leave for work about 7:30 in the morning when I was just finishing giving the kids their breakfast. As tempting as it might have been to sit them down in front of the TV while I did schoolwork or housework, I didn’t do that. I only let them watch TV if we all watched it together and only certain shows were allowed. Most of them were on the PBS channel. Cable was out of the question. As that first year past both of the kids loved the routine and both were talking up a storm. They are only 15 months apart in age, so Matt was not so advanced beyond Hayley that they didn’t like the same stuff.

After breakfast was finished and the kitchen cleaned, I might start a load of clothes, make the beds, and do those normal things. The kids would be following me around the house and asking when it would be time for “rockin”. No, not rocking and rolling, but our time in the rocking chair. At the appropriate time we would go into the den and I would turn on the TV, sit in the rocking recliner, and the kids would take up their spots in my lap. Matt always like to be on the left side and Hayley on my right side. Oddly enough, Hayley turned out to be left-handed and Matt is right-handed. The show that they loved most and the one that I came to love just as much was “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood”. They loved the puppets. Especially King Friday, Queen Sarah, X-the owl, Henrietta Pussycat, and Daniel Tiger. The train in “The Make-Believe Neighborhood” was also a favorite. Then there was the mailman Mr. McFeely and often there were guests. We all loved the field trips to see how things were made. I remember how excited both the kids were to learn how Crayons were made. I was fascinated at the underground mushroom facility. After “Mr. Rogers” we would watch their second favorite show. “Sesame Street”. I still remember them both getting out of my lap to do their best imitation of the walking from the song “I’ve Got a New Way To Walk, Walk” When there was an elephant featured on one episode I taught them to walk like elephants with their little arms pointed out in front of their noses. They loved Oscar the Grouch, The Cookie Monster, and Elmo. Big Bird scared them. Me too.

After an hour of TV, we would turn it off and I would read to them from books that they chose. Time zoomed by and it would be time for lunch. After lunch it was time for a nap. Nap time was my time to do schoolwork. Once in a while I would just sit in the quiet and enjoy a period of non-commotion. Life may have been hectic then and to tell the truth I was looking forward to finishing college and having a more “normal” life. But with 20-20 hindsight I realize that we were given a rare gift back then.

Today both of my kids are great parents. Hayley has three girls, ages 11, 7 and 1. Hayley is so good with her kids and it shows in them. They are loving and well-rounded children. In many ways, they each remind me of different aspects of how their mother was when she was a child. Matthew has two girls, ages 10 and 6. When I see pictures of Matt reading to the girls and loving on them, I am reminded of him when he was a little boy. All of the girls, “my wonderful 5 grand-daughters”, are a blessing beyond any wishes that I might have had. I’d like to think that part of the reason they are the way they are is due to that period of time that my kids and I had together back in 1986-1988. Even though their mother and I would end up divorced many years later when the kids were grown, at that time there was a lot of love in our little family. I also give kudos to my ex-wife. She was willing to work full-time so that we could get me through college. I ended up graduating from Houston Baptist University in 1990 cum laude. I couldn’t have done that without my ex-wife’s willingness to go on that journey and help provide for our family while I took a secondary role in our household income due to school. When I see clips from the old “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” show I can’t help but be taken back to that old rocker, a beat-up TV, and two loving and much-loved children sitting in my lap. Thank you, Mr. Rogers, thank you.

The Weirdest Date That I Ever Had

            Let me tell you about the weirdest date that I ever had. It was sometime in the spring of 2008. I had been single for 5 years after being married for 27 years. When the divorce was final in August of 2003, I had not been in the dating world since I was 19 years old. To say that things had changed would be a gross understatement. I didn’t go out on a date for about 8 months after the divorce. That thar hoss had bucked me pretty hard and I wuzn’t quite ready to get back up on that pony and take any more punishment. This was in early 2004 and the world of internet dating had made its appearance with a bang. They were making movies about it and frankly any movie with Diane Lang got my vote. But we were in the toddling stage of internet dating and a lot of us were not aware of the weirdness that could come from dating someone via an internet site.

            I refer to the years between 2004 and 2007 as my “50 First Dates” faze. No, I didn’t date someone with extreme short-term memory loss. But I did date about 50 women for one date only each. Perhaps I exaggerate a bit on the number, but it sure seemed like 50. Most of these “dates” were the kind where you meet for coffee (Heck, I don’t even drink the stuff!). None of them led to anything more than a one-time meeting. To tell the truth, I spent more time emailing and talking on the phone with those dates than I did on an actual date. I was learning very quickly that there were some women out there in my age range that were very much a mess. The worst part of internet dating was the dishonesty that I discovered. It was rampant. It was also stupid.

            There were some nice ladies that I met, but most of them were very angry or very hurt. The angry ones baffled me. They seemed to hate men because they had been treated badly by a man, yet they wanted to find a man to be with.

            Yes, there were all kinds of ladies during that time period that I met once and never saw again. Some were just not compatible while some were nice, but for one reason or another it just wasn’t a match. Now for the weirdest date. I had once again turned to an internet dating site. I should have learned by then, but I guess I got lonely. This woman seemed really nice in our email correspondences. When we talked on the phone, she seemed pleasant and “normal”. We arranged to go out to dinner on a Saturday night. She even trusted me enough to allow me to come pick her up. I certainly would have understood just meeting somewhere, but we had talked on the phone quite a bit and I guess she felt comfortable enough to have me pick her up. We went to a nice steak house and I was quite pleased for about the first hour of our date. She was as attractive in person as her picture showed her to be on the internet site. She seemed to have a good sense of humor and she appeared to be intelligent and witty. I should have known something was going sideways when the theme to “The Twilight Zone” started to play.

            There we were talking after eating our dinner and she said she needed to tell me something before we went any further. That’s never a good sign. I nonchalantly nodded and said, “Go for it.” That’s when she told me that she had been going to a psychiatrist for 20 years. My first thought was that she might want to get a new psychiatrist if the one she had couldn’t fix her in 20 years. But then I mentally slapped myself for being sarcastic. I asked her why she needed to be seeing a psychiatrist in the first place. I had all kinds of things going through my head that I thought might explain why she would need therapy. Perhaps she had been abused as a child. Maybe she had suffered a horrible loss such as her parents dying in front of her or some thing of that nature. Nope, none of those fit the bill. She then demurely said that she had multiple-personality disorder. She said it like it was a badge of honor or that she was proud of it. I then asked her to explain. She said that she had thus far been diagnosed with 17 distinct personalities. She even had names for all of them. She said that 14 were good, but 3 were bad. She said she had been working on getting rid of the bad ones for some time. Uh-huh. Right about this time I was wishing we had just met at the steak house. I knew that the ride back to her house was going to be awkward and then some. Especially after I asked the next question. I looked her in the eyes and said, “So which one am I having dinner with?”

            It must have been one of the bad ones because she got really mad over that question. I do believe in schizophrenia and bipolarism. I’ve seen those in action and there is definitely something haywire in the brain of someone with those afflictions. But I just don’t buy the 17 different people living in one body thing. If anything, this lady had been more messed up by her doctor than anything else. For that matter, I wondered if perhaps she was just lying. People will lie for many reasons and one of them is to gain attention.

            Well, the date was effectively over after she got mad over my question. I took her to her home and the drive there was indeed tense. But I am a gentleman and I walked her to her door. I said goodnight and left. I had a 50-mile drive to my house, and it gave me a chance to digest not only my dinner, but the lady with 17 lives. I reassessed the usage of the internet for dating. Prayhaps it was not the way to go. But loneliness can make you lonely. I would use the internet dating sites again later, but I haven’t in a long time now and I think I’m cured. I really do feel sorry for that lady because she does have some mental problems. Emotional problems may be a better term for it. But that was 11 years ago and maybe she is OK now. I hope so. I haven’t been on a date of any kind for over a year. It’s not that I don’t want to meet someone and have someone to care about and be cared for by. I would like that very much. But I’m not going to hit the internet again and hope a nice Christian, sane, decent, attractive (to me) woman will be doing the same. I’ll leave it up to God. Maybe I’ll meet someone at church or through a friend etc. But one thing is for sure. If I do, she’ll only be her one and only self.

Gender Snaps

            Yesterday I had the pleasure of “babysitting” my daughter’s three girls. The girls are ages 1, 7, and 11. I made some observations as we all sat in the den and watched some cartoons. Girls and boys are different. No kidding, Sherlock! Well, let me explain a little better. When my son was a little boy and he would get together with his two cousins, both of which were also boys, the dynamic between them was far different than what I witnessed yesterday. There was rough-housing and alpha-posturing going on for the most part. Toys were ripped from one boy’s hands by another, competition was fierce, and in general there was much more aggression than what I saw yesterday.

            My daughter needed to go to a meeting for a couple of hours and there just wasn’t anyone who could watch the three girls. Trust me when I say that I didn’t mind at all driving 120 miles, round-trip, and spending some time with the girls. Ziva is thirteen months old now. She is smart as a whip and moves light greased lightning. Laney is 7 years old and is also very bright. She has 7 times as much energy as Ziva at this point. She also may end up in a circus sideshow as a contortionist. I think I’ll start calling her “Elastic Girl”. She truly is made to be a gymnast. I got aches and pains just watching her do some of the things she does. Finally, Sofia is the oldest at 11. She is at that in-between age. She is still a little girl, but morphs into a teenager at the blink of an eye. Having the opportunity to observe these three beautiful girls without their parents being around was indeed eye-opening.

            There was no rough-housing (other than Laney laying on the floor on her stomach and arching her back allowing her feet to touch the back of her head!) or power posturing. Well, I guess there was a little bit of power exertion by Sofia, but it was like watching and hearing her mother when she is there. They all got along wonderfully. The two older girls were full of genuine love for their baby sister. Ziva was happy just to bounce back and forth between her big sisters and allow them to love on her. The older girls would pick up Ziva and hold her, love on her, and show great affection for their little sister. Remember my son and his cousins? The only way those kinds of things would have happened with them is if they had been body-snatched by aliens from another planet.

            At one point, Ziva needed a diaper change. Sofia didn’t blink an eye. Paw-Paw was spared the chore when Sofia simply picked up Ziva and took her into Ziva’s room and changed her diaper. If my older nephew had been faced with the same situation when his little brother and my son were still in diapers he couldn’t have gotten far enough away. Here’s a little secret. All men and boys feel that way. As a father, I changed many diapers. The first time that I did wasn’t so bad. A newborn doesn’t produce much in the way of waste. But when they were two years old and still in diapers on the threshold of a dream called “being potty trained”, those diapers could be fully loaded. The truth is a good father changes his children’s diapers. But there is a definite difference between how he does it and how the mother does it. Dear old Dad holds his breath for the duration and tries very hard to be a quick-change artist. If it weren’t so expensive and time consuming, Dad would wear a bio-hazard suit with filtered A/C and there would be a decontamination chamber for removing even the smallest of possible bio-waste products. But Mom is different. I’ve observed mothers during the chore. They nonchalantly remove any bio-waste that might jump off the diaper and onto their hand. They sing and coo and love on the “BWB” (Bio-waste being). There’s always a big hug when it’s over and more than a few sweet kisses. The BWB morphs back into a beautiful baby and giggles at Mama’s affection.

            The takeaway yesterday for me was that girls possess a mothering instinct. They were designed that way. I believe firmly that God created man and woman with specific male and female instincts. I know this is politically incorrect in the society that we live in now. I don’t care if somebody gets upset over this statement. If they had their heads on straight, then they would see it and embrace it with thanks. Let’s face facts. A woman carries a baby inside of her body for 9 months. Both the baby and the mother need each other once the baby is born. The baby has up until then only known her mother. Have you ever noticed the peaceful sleep a newborn baby has sleeping on his/her mother’s stomach? The baby comes to know and love the father over time and a good father will show plenty of affection for his child. But for the first few years of a child’s life the mother is the most important being in its life. That’s the way God made us.

            I enjoyed the afternoon yesterday with my granddaughters very much. They were very sweet to each other and to their Paw-Paw. I thank God for them every day and for the miracle of their loving parents. My son-in-law is a loving father and it shows. Those girls are growing up in a home with a lot of love and they are learning what a good mother and a good father looks like. I hope that I live long enough to meet a great-grand-child. I’m positive that those granddaughters of mine will turn out to be fantastic mothers. Hey, the scary part is how quick that could come about. They really do grow-up fast. I’m going to do my part though too. I’ll be telling them to wait to fall in love and get married. To wait until after they are ready and most importantly to marry the right kind of man that the two of them together will be equal partners in the rearing of children, but each with their own set of skills and God-given instincts.

Announcement #1

            Hello! This will be a short entry. I basically wanted to let you know that I am working hard on what will be my first book. In fact, I have gotten the first draft completed. It will take a bit more of my time to get the book edited and ready for printing. Therefore, my blog entries may be a bit shorter than usual for a while which will allow me more time to complete the book. If you like my blog, then you will like the book. The book will be a collection of memoirs from my life from birth to about twenty. Some of these have appeared as blog entries and I will be editing them to fit the format of the book. By the way, the name of the book will be “Souvenirs From a Life”.

            I want to thank each and every one of you who have read my blog and have been so supportive. I know that I can count on you to be a little patient while I get this project completed. Feel free to contact me or to leave a comment at any time. You have all meant so much to me as I have shared my life with you via this blog. Until next blog, God bless you and keep being you.

James R. Stout

The Arcade

            Thomas Wolfe said, “You can never go home again”. I believe that we’ve all experienced that at some point in our lives. When I have the occasion to drive through the area of Houston, Texas that I spent the years between 11 years-old through 24 years-old I come face to face with the fact that things have changed and no amount of wishing that they were the same will make it so. More importantly, I realize how much I have changed. Let me take you back to August of 1973. I was almost 18 years old. I went to the amusement park “Astroworld” with my girlfriend and a friend along with his girlfriend. I had saved up the money to have a great time. Besides the money for the tickets, parking, and food and drinks for the day, I had $100 set aside to spend on whatever I could do with that amount of money. That was a princely sum for a 17-year-old kid at the time. We had a fantastic time that day. It ranks as one of the most enjoyable single days of my life. We rode the rides, my girlfriend and I did a lot of hugging during the three times that we rode the rollercoaster, we enjoyed a live performance of some very talented dancers, musicians, and singers, we ate too much junk, and we even had our photos taken and giant wall posters made out of the pictures. Sadly, the posters were thrown away at some point in my 20’s. Finally, there was about an hour left before we had to leave, and my girlfriend asked me to win her a stuffed animal at the arcade. It was a large arcade with all the typical games of chance to play. Throwing darts at balloons, round pieces of plastic onto cola bottles, shooting jets of water to fill a balloon and hope that it popped for a win, throwing baseballs at metal milk bottles, and a whole host of other games. I still had about $50 in cash and I set out to win her a stuffed animal.

            Well, I was hot that night. I couldn’t seem to miss. Before it was over, I had won my girlfriend over twenty stuffed animals including a very large bear and an equally large elephant. It took all four of us to carry the animals out to the car. It was a perfect day. From the moment I picked up my girlfriend at her house to the moment we kissed goodnight it had been a day to remember.

            Now, let me take you back to another day. It was in April of 1981. If you’re counting, it was nearly 8 years later. I was an old married man by then. No, not really, but my ex-wife and I had been married nearly 5 years. Within two years of that other day in 1973 my old girlfriend and I had split up, I was out of high school by a year, and I met the girl that I would be married to for 27 years. By that night in in 1981 we had already gone through quite a bit of life. The previous year had been a very difficult year for us. I had taken a job in Dallas that turned out to be a mistake. Little did I know when we moved to Dallas that the job would play out within 8 months. The company was in financial trouble and would be defunct after I had worked there for only 8 months. The following several months saw us go through some rough financial times of our own. At one point, we leased an old house in Garland, Texas and despite lowering our rent we were struggling while I worked a temporary job and sought a permanent job making better pay. We resorted to using dish washing detergent to also shower with and wash our hair with. This, besides using it to clean dishes and clothes. We just didn’t have the money to buy the proper products. I sold my 1980 truck and bought a 5-year-old Fiat that needed work. I had to replace the radiator, water pump, and exhaust system. I lost some weight in order to fit into some clothes that had been a little tight and I grew my hair out long to save having to pay for a haircut. The old house we lived in didn’t have an oven that worked, but fortunately the stove top did. I think you get the picture. We were struggling to overcome the situation.

            In February of 1981 I finally got a permanent job. It didn’t pay as well as I had hoped, but it seemed to have promise of better pay to come. We had been behind on some bills and got caught up within a month or so. We had gone for months without doing anything that cost extra money. No movies, no dinners out, no new clothes, pretty much nothing other than the bare necessities required to make ends meet. We moved into a studio apartment on April 15th. It was much nicer than the old house. We had two bathrooms and we even got free cable TV. Well, that would have been great if our old black and white TV had the ability to hook up to cable! One night near the end April we noticed that a large carnival was in town and set-up just down the road from our new apartment. We decided to go have some fun. We had $25 to spend which wasn’t much, but we thought it might be enough to ride a few rides and feel alive again.

            We walked around the carnival and rode a Ferris wheel and the “tilt-a-whirl”. Of course, they had a huge arcade. My wife asked me if I could win her a stuffed animal. Talk about Deja’ vu! Well, I was whisked back nearly 8 years to that perfect day in 1973. I only had about $15 to spend this time though. I would love to tell you that I won my wife 20 stuffed animals, but I can’t do that. It wouldn’t be true. What happened was within about 5 minutes I spent that $15 and didn’t win a thing. It happened so fast that we were both in shock. We both got sick to our stomachs and left the carnival.

            We got back into that Fiat and sat in silence for about a minute or so and then we turned to each other and embraced each other while we both broke into sobs. I cried because I felt like a failure and because I knew how hard it was to get that money that I had just thrown away. My wife cried because of the same reason. We had gone through so much adversity, much more than I have described here, and that $15 represented much more than a mere $15. Thomas Wolfe was right and then some. I had tried to relive just a little bit of that perfect day from 1973 and I had learned that you just can’t go home again. Lightning certainly didn’t strike twice for me at an arcade. I also learned a more sobering lesson. I learned that there isn’t much truth in the old saying, “easy come, easy go”. Too often it’s very hard to come by something and far too easy to lose it.

            Well, we both learned a lesson that night. We never again wasted hard earned money. We learned to make better choices. I believe that had we simply spent the money on a movie and dinner the outcome would have been very different. But we chose poorly. There would be better times and there would even be worse times to come for us. But that’s life. What you have to learn via experience is to recognize when you’re on top of a mountain and to enjoy it while you’re there. Cherish it because you won’t be on that exact mountaintop again. You also have to learn to recognize when you’re going through the darkest of valleys and to not lose hope. You may go through many more valleys in your life, but there’s a mountaintop just ahead. You just have to persevere and be patient.

Determination

            I want to talk to you about determination. I learned from an early age that you will face a plethora of obstacles and adversities that may cause you to feel like giving up. Worse yet you may develop a habit of not even trying because something looks too hard or impossible to do. I’m going to tell you part of my story, from my teenage years, when I learned to persevere and to achieve that which I was being told was impossible. That is, impossible for me.

            I started to learn the guitar when I was about 14-years-old. I wasn’t very good. I learned some basic chords, but I was using my Dad’s old guitar that wasn’t in very good shape. It was very difficult to play because of what is called the “action” on it. The neck was way out of adjustment and consequently the strings were too high above the fretboard. It took what seemed to be superhuman strength to press down the strings to the fretboard and hold them there long enough to play. To make matters worse, the guitar had a short neck on it. Playing bar-chords on it was virtually impossible. I played on that guitar for nearly a year and my ability to play the guitar didn’t improve much. It was rather like putting a ball and chain on a sprinter. He just isn’t going to get very far with that heavy ball and chain attached to his leg.

            In the fall of my high school freshman year I met several guys who were in a band. It actually was two different bands depending on what day of the week it was. A real musical chairs kind of thing. Someone would get mad at someone else and quit one band and go join the other band. Eventually a core group formed up and they had quite the little click going on. One Saturday I was invited over to a practice. I was still struggling, but when I played the guitar belonging to one of the guys that was much nicer (and expensive) than mine it was like the ball and chain had been removed.  These guys were for the most part not very nice. They were all pretty arrogant and they were of that elitist group of people circa 1970 who thought that the only music that was worth listening to or playing was hard rock. Their repertoire included Jimi Hendrix, Grand Funk Railroad (before they got smart and started writing more radio friendly hits), The Rolling Stones, etc. The deal was they weren’t bad at playing their instruments. But not a one of them could sing worth a darn. So, I had been invited over to see if I could sing. My voice was developing, but it was never meant for a steady diet of hard rock. It has been and still is more suited to the “singer-songwriter” style of music. I felt that perhaps with some work I could learn some of those harder edged songs and the band could play some of the songs that I was more suited for. They thought differently. In fact, this is where the first of two events within 6 months happened that caused me to seriously doubt myself and almost be defeated by the petty meanness of a handful of people. The guys blunted told me that I just wasn’t good enough to be in their band. But if I wanted to hang around and move their amps and equipment for them, I could do that. I said no thanks. I was hurt and I was mad. A little of the former and a lot of the latter.

            That Christmas I got a new guitar. It wasn’t an expensive guitar, but it sounded much better than my father’s, had great easy action, and it allowed me to improve my guitar playing immensely in a short period of time. By March of 1971 I met another guitarist in the neighborhood, and we formed a band. He had a friend who wanted to play bass but didn’t know how to play guitar. I didn’t know how that would work out. It turned out that the other guitarist was teaching the bassist the bass lines and he was memorizing the lines. He didn’t have a clue what notes he was playing. We had a drummer who was passable. I would play rhythm guitar and sing, and the other guy would play lead and sing. Well, it didn’t take long to find out that my idea for the band was vastly different than the other three guys. They wanted to play even harder music. They were into Black Sabbath (it gave me the creeps) and the lead guitarist started thinking he was going to be the next Jimi Hendrix. After two months of working with that band I was told to hit the road. They were going to make it big and rich being a power trio. Uh-huh. They lasted about another month from what I heard. But once again I was told that I just didn’t measure up. I knew in my heart that I had talent and that I could get a whole lot better. I dug in and decided that I was going to show all those guys. I was going to stay the course.

            That summer my father surprised me by buying me a used bass guitar and amp knowing that I had interest in playing that instrument. I took to it like a duck to water. Within a couple of months, I was playing bass pretty well. There was just one problem. Playing bass and singing at the same time takes a lot more coordination than playing guitar and singing. Most of my performing at the time was at school or family gatherings and those performances were just me singing and playing my guitar. Two other things started to happen about this time. First, I started to develop my voice more. I would listen to records and do my best to sound like the singers. It wasn’t that I wanted to copy other people, but I wanted to learn the craft of singing. Secondly, I started to write my own songs. I was writing like a fiend. Granted, most of those songs don’t measure up to what I would eventually be able to write, but it was a time to learn the craft of songwriting. I learned how to write melody, add different harmonies, how to organize a song using verses, bridges, breaks, choruses, and so forth. I learned what worked and what didn’t. I studied other songwriters to see what tricks they used. My own style started to form as I sifted through the many styles of songwriting of the most successful songwriters in history. I got to the point where I would hear a new record come on the radio and after one listening, I knew whether or not the song would be a big hit. Sometimes a record would feature a part that was a standout part. A “hook” if you will. But if the producer relied too much on that hook it could work against them. I remember one song that had a great intro and a catchy hook in the chorus. The problem was we got two short verses and then the hook was repeated ad nauseum. If they had developed the song a bit more with perhaps a break and another verse and omitted the dozen or so repeating choruses (which included some modulations that didn’t help), then it would have likely been a Top 10 song. It didn’t do terrible because it did make it into the Hot 100, but it could have been done better. I also learned that while the original versions of songs were sometimes impossible to beat, once in a while a cover version would be a huge hit and do much better. I listened to the differences. What made the cover version so much better? A great example of this is the song “California Sun” by The Rivieras. The original song was done by Joe Jones on Roulette Records in 1961. It lacked a decent guitar part, featured a pretty raw saxophone that didn’t do the song much good, and it was in the original out and out rhythm and blues style of the artist. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good. Three years later an unknown group called The Rivieras put their take on the song. What they did was add a killer guitar part, a rock and roll beat, a great combo organ interplay, a vocal that stood out and made you want to sing along, and a great drum intro part. The result was a #5 hit record compared to the original version that managed to only get to #89.

            Throughout 1972 I continued to practice my guitar, bass, piano, singing, and songwriting. I started to record some of my own songs on an old reel-to-reel recorder that my Dad had. Those recordings are pretty rough, but by the end of the year I was getting much better. I formed a duet with a schoolmate, and we started playing at coffeehouses and so forth. We were doing many of my original songs and getting a good reaction from theme. At that time, it was just us playing two acoustic guitars and singing two-part harmony. Of course, we just had to include songs by some famous duets including The Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, Seals and Crofts, and Loggins and Messina. We went into a recording studio in the summer of 1973 and recorded one of my songs called “Happy as Can Be”. It was passable, but when I listen to that record and realize it was just a couple of 17 year old kids playing the instruments (I played lead 12-string guitar and bass and sang lead while LJS played rhythm guitar, maracas, and sang harmony), producing and arranging the record, what I hear are two guys that had some talent and would get better.

 

Picture on the left is me getting my new guitar at Christmas 1970. Picture on right is approximately 4 years later.

 

The Baptistry Caper

            It was the fall of 1965. We were members of Northview Baptist Church in Bryan, Texas. It was during a period of time that we quite literally were at the church if the doors were open. We spent almost all-day Sunday at the church. Sunday School was at 9:30 a.m. followed by the morning worship service at 11:00. We went home after the service and had lunch and “quiet” time which usually entailed a nap. By 4:00 p.m. we were all in the car and headed back to the church. Choir practice was from 4:30-5:30. My parents and both my sisters were in the choir. I was only 10 years old and too young to be in the choir. I’ll get back to this in a minute. At 6 p.m. there was what we called Training Union which was a time of Bible study per age group. Finally, there was an evening worship service at 7 p.m.

            Choir practice was a bit tricky for anyone with children. The church had a nursery for young children, but children above the age of 5 had to sit in the sanctuary while the choir practiced in the choir loft. But, after you were about 10 years old, you were allowed to find something constructive to do either outside or in the education building. My best friend at the time was a guy named Ronnie Thomas. Ronnie was a year older than me and therefore he was the defacto “leader”. We usually chose to find something to do outside. Of course, we had to stay clean for the evening service. So, there was no sports or that sort of thing. One of the things that we enjoyed doing was role playing games based on our favorite TV shows. At that point in time, our absolute favorite was “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

            As I stated earlier, Ronnie was the leader. Therefore, he was Napoleon Solo and I was the loveable sidekick with a Russian accent, Ilya Kuryakin. You would know him today as “Duckie” on N.C.I.S. We would hone our secret agent skills by playing games similar to hide and seek. One Sunday earlier in the year Ronnie came up with a brilliant idea. We would prove our worth as secret agents by sneaking into the church on the left side door, creep up a short staircase, slither our way silently through the baptistry, and back down the other side stairs and out the right-side door without being heard by the choir. You see, the empty baptistry was right behind the choir loft. We would wait until they would start singing a toe-tapper and then sneak our way through and make a soundless escape. We had done these many times by the fall of that year. Oh, there’s something you need to know. Ronnie’s father was the choir director. My Dad sat on the back row and both of our mothers and my sisters were in the choir.

            Then the day came. I call it “The Baptistry Caper”. Everything started out good that day. Napoleon was the leader and that meant he went first. I have been forever grateful for that. I was at the base of the staircase and I watched as Mr. Solo crept up the stairs. Then I saw him slip, heard a great yelp, and then heard a very loud splash as Napoleon Solo took a header into the filled baptistry. Well, I made a hasty retreat out the side door, ran the length of the sanctuary to the front entry doors, and then nonchalantly entered the church with my hands in my pocket as if I was just a cowpoke moseying along. The commotion was starting to die down when I walked into the sanctuary. What I saw was complete chaos. Ronnie was standing up in the baptistry with his hair plastered to his head and water running down his face. He was soaked to the skin. Most of the choir members in the back row, my father included, were drenched from the splashing overflow. Some of the ladies had their hands to their mouths in utter disbelief while others were trying hard to stifle their laughter. Mr. Thomas was red in the face and Mrs. Thomas was directing Ronnie out of the baptistry with the tone of a very mad mother bear. All eyes were on the melee except for two. Those two eyes belonged to my mother. Her eyes were boring holes through my soul at the time. She just knew I had to have been mixed up in the caper, yet there I was inside the church and apparently not part of it at all.

            Well, that event was a much talked about event for a couple of weeks. The preacher even came up with a sermon featuring the “The Baptistry Caper” and to his credit it was a most entertaining sermon. That night as we drove home my sisters were laughing about it and Dad was complaining about his hair getting soaked and it causing his hair oil to be very nearly ineffective. The wet head was not dead yet. Mom asked me for the 5th time if I had anything to do with the whole thing and for the 5th time I lied to my mother. I felt horrible about doing that and I carried guilt over it for decades. Ronnie was grounded for two weeks and had to sit with the other kids in the church during choir practice for a long time after that.

            Fast-forward about 45 years. I over at my parent’s home visiting one evening and we happen to be talking about our days in Bryan and Northview Baptist Church came up. I finally admitted to my parents that I had been on the side stairs when Ronnie took a dip in the Baptistry. I explained, with head hung low as if I was 10 years old again, that we had snuck through there many times before. Dad thought it was funny and got a kick out of it. I think Mom did too, but she still gave me a look over her glasses, a look that I had seen many times growing up, that seem to say, “You can’t fool me, Ilya”. She said that she knew I had to be involved given Ronnie and I were joined at the hip in those days. I looked at her and Dad and I did the only thing that seemed appropriate. I simply said, “I love you”.

            Dad told me he loved me too and then Mom said, “Well, I love you and you know that. But you deserve being punished for being a part of that.” I must admit that I was taken aback. I was 55 years old by then and what on Earth could she be thinking? Then she said, “Your punishment is to change the lightbulb in the utility room. Neither one of us can climb up on a ladder anymore.”

            We all burst out laughing and I promptly got up and changed that lightbulb for them. I must tell you that thinking back on all the days that I had with my parents, I miss them immensely. I know I’ll see them again one day, but in the meantime all I can do is to remember them for the wonderful parents that they were, the terrific people that they were, and the role models they were for me and my sisters. I can only hope that my own children will have half the warm feelings for me when I’m gone that I have for my parents.

P.S. – This is Ilya Kuryakin. This blog entry was dictated into my secret agent cigarette case recorder. For what it’s worth, the cigarettes are candy and not those nasty cancer sticks.

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