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James R. Stout


The Forever Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Night The Beast Bought The Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Contraption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Snoopy Vs. The Wicked Witch of the West

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

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

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

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

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

A Gravel Road

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

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

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

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

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

Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Moment In Eternal Time

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Thang and The Buick

            The neighborhood that I grew up in had some interesting characters. But hands, no, make that paws, down the most interesting character in the neighborhood was an orange tabby cat that was strapped with the name, “Wild Thang”. Let me tell you, that cat was indeed wild. He had little to no use for humans and especially humans under the age of about 20. I was in that group when I first encountered Wild Thang. I was about 12 at the time. Wild Thang was “owned” by a widow lady across the street. Heck, he might have been her deceased husband come back to haunt her. He was a rather large cat, not fat, just large. At some point in time someone must have tried to strangle Wild Thang because his meow was more like the sound of frog with laryngitis imitating a cat. He was loud too. No dog felt safe in the neighborhood when they heard his meowing and screeching.

            I’m convinced that Wild Thang really did have 9 lives. One day I decided to go out on the front porch and enjoy the late afternoon sun. Apparently, Wild Thang was exploring my mother’s azalea bushes by the porch and when I stepped outside, I startled him something fierce. First, he screeched and then he took off like his tail was on fire. He ran across the fairly busy street on the side of our house and I watched in horror as a great big Buick with a giant chrome grin plowed into Wild Thang as he was in mid-flight trying to get across the road. It was like slow motion. The car smacked into Wild Thang on the side of the head, his head nearly did a 360 degree turn and he seemed to look right at me with a look of “This is nuts!” on his face, and then several teeth went flying out of his mouth and clinked against the chrome bumper. The driver of the car threw on his brakes and stopped just as Wild Thang came to a stop from rolling several times. I figured he was dead, but if he was, then his next life took over because he jumped up screeched at the car, and then ran into the widow lady’s yard and hid in the bushes. It was the darndest thing I had ever seen.

            This is where the story gets even stranger. About two days later I got off the bus from school and walked up the sidewalk to our porch and there was Wild Thang just sitting on the porch. To be honest, I was a little scared of him at that point. But he was just sitting there looking at me. As I stepped up on the porch and started to unlock the door, he slowly walked over to me and rubbed up against my leg. What on Earth? He had never done anything like that before and so far, as I was aware, had never allowed anyone to pet him. But here he was begging for some loving. Well, I do love animals and I especially like cats and dogs. So, I sat down, and old Wild Thang crawled up into my lap and started to purr. I must have sat there about 15 minutes petting him and he was just purring. Finally, I had to get up and go in and call my mother at work to let her know I was home from school. But for the next month or so Wild Thang was usually waiting for me when I got home from school. We became great friends. Then one day he wasn’t there. Then the next and then the next day after that. In fact, I never saw him again. Maybe he found a lady cat or maybe he had been on his 9th life and something happened. I have no idea. But I learned something from Wild Thang. First, you don’t judge someone based on how they look or sound or some physical trait that they may have. Second, when someone offers you love, and I mean love in a pure sense of the word, you return the gesture with some of your love. Finally, you don’t listen to what someone has to say about someone else until you’ve spent time with that someone else. All the kids in the neighborhood made fun of Wild Thang and I suspect a few of them were not nice to him. Prior to that day with the Buick, I had tried to pet Wild Thang, but he always shied away. I’m glad that we had some time to become friends. To this day, I have a special place in my heart for orange tabbies. It pays to be kind and it pays to show understanding and love.

 

High School Harry Graduates

            On Friday May 29, 2020, it will be the 46th anniversary of my graduation from high school. So much has been said via the TV news, Facebook, Yahoo and Google news, and other places how terrible it is that most of the high school graduations this year have either been canceled or totally altered due to Covid-19. I’ve read a lot about how disappointed the graduates are and how they are feeling somehow abused. Now, I don’t want to sound uncaring or hard-hearted, but my feelings about this is that it’s not that big of a deal. The graduates should be happy about graduating more than an over-blown ceremony that won’t mean much to them in the years to come. Maybe it’s just me. If you read my blogs often, then you know that I possess an excellent memory. Therefore, consider my account of the night that I graduated from high school.

            There were approximately 725 graduates that night. We all met in our caps and gowns in the school auditorium prior to the graduation ceremony. We had assigned seats and we were given last minute instructions by our class principal. Finally, the time came to march into the stadium and take our seats in the bleachers while a rather loud version of “Pomp and Circumstances” was played. Remember me saying what a great memory that I have? Well, just to show you that the whole thing wasn’t really that big of a deal to me, I’ll list below the few things that I do or don’t remember.

  1. I do not have a clue who sat beside me on either side. For that matter, I don’t recall anyone that was near me.

  2. My main concern throughout the ceremony was that my cap was a little too big and the slightest puff of wind would blow it off my head. I had to hold it in place most of the night.

  3. I have little recollection of who walked across the stage. In fact, I only recall two other people. My then girlfriend and my best friend.

  4. I know that there were a bunch of speeches and so forth, but I can’t tell you one thing about what was said. My then girlfriend was our valedictorian, but I don’t believe she delivered a speech. I honestly don’t recall.

  5. The adults on the stage that I recall were our class principal, the school principal, and the district superintendent. I’m sure there were more, but I don’t recall them.

  6. I have a vague memory of the row that I was on being directed to stand up and begin our turn to walk down to the stage. I had to hold onto that cap the whole time. Right up until my name was called and I walked across the stage. I had to hope it wouldn’t go flying onto the football field.

  7. Sometime during the ceremony, we had a streaker run buck-naked across the football field with two policemen in hot pursuit. It was hilarious and certainly the highlight of the evening. I honestly can’t say exactly when it happened. I remember feeling sorry for the graduates while it happened because the class principal kept on calling out names and nobody could hear her for all of the laughter.

  8. I remember being handed my diploma, which wasn’t but a rolled-up piece of blank paper, and then exiting on the other side of the stage. My best friend’s father was standing down there and as I left the stage he yelled, “Way to go, Randy!” I never heard the yells that my family told me they made when my name was called.

  9. Following the close of the ceremony most of the graduates threw their caps into the air. I didn’t because we were warned that if we didn’t return the cap and gown, then they wouldn’t give us our diploma the next day when we went to the school to pick up the real one. I didn’t want ANYTHING to keep me from getting out of that place. As it turned out, they had a big huge box on the football field, and we were told to just throw the cap and gown in the box. Oh well.

  10. My parents had put together a small informal gathering at their house for me, Diana, and Lonny and we all had a piece of cake. I do not recall a thing after that gathering. I cannot tell you what I did or what we did etc.

  11. The next day I went to the school and had my diploma in hand within a few minutes.

          That’s all that I recall about my graduation. I couldn’t begin to tell you what I wore under the gown. I don’t recall driving to and from the school. This is from someone who so clearly remembers minute details about so many things. Yet, the graduation ceremony from high school really wasn’t that important to me. The diploma was. Being finished with grade school was. I was ready to take on the world even though I didn’t have a clue how to do that.

          So, to all of those kids this year who are upset over the way things have turned out, you’ll likely have a clearer memory of graduating than I did. In the years to come, you’ll realize that a graduation ceremony isn’t that big of a deal. Maybe it feels like it at the time, but so many other things are going to eclipse it. Getting married, the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the birth of a grandchild, and all the things that fill our lives will be much more important to you. Congratulations on graduating, but there’s a whole lot of living to do yet and one day you’ll look back on graduating from high school and what you will remember is the friendships you had and perhaps will still have and the pride of completing something that in reality should be a requirement of every person in America. Cue Mr. Pomp and Mr. Circumstance.

Ripples

            On part of our family property there is a fairly large pond or tank that is fed by an artesian well. The artesian spring was first discovered in 1964 when an oil company was doing some sounding and up through the ground came a bubbling crude. Clear and clean artesian water that is. My grandfather sunk a pipe and had a tank dug out with a bulldozer. It has never come close to running dry. Grandpa also had a spigot installed and you can still go to that tank and draw water to drink. It’s cold and clean and has been tested by Texas A&M. I love that tank. Maybe that sounds crazy, but it is a reminder of my grandparents and my childhood. When it was dug, they had to clear a large area around it of trees just to be able to dig the tank. I have a picture of my grandparents and an aunt beside one of the banks of the tank after the tank had started to fill up with water. But over the years many trees and undergrowth have sprouted around three sides of the tank. It is very picturesque. I don’t own that tank or the land it’s on, but my property borders it. It is owned by my cousins. We have an understanding in the family that any of us are welcome to go to any part of what was once the entirety of my grandparent’s farm, about 360 acres. One of my favorite things to do is to hop aboard my 4-wheel drive side-by-side vehicle and explore the property. It’s serene and peaceful and brings back a wealth of memories.

            One day not long ago while we were all supposed to be staying at home due to the pandemic, I went for a drive on the property in the side-by-side. When I got to the artesian tank, I was amazed at how beautiful the day was. The water was like a mirror. In that mirror you could see the trees of green and a beautiful cerulean blue sky with a few puffy white clouds. It was awe-inspiring. My first thought was that God is indeed the master painter of the universe. I sat there near the one cleared bank and watched as cardinals, sparrows, mockingbirds, blue jays, and other birds fluttered among the trees next to the tank. I could hear their singing along with a soft burbling of the water as it trickled out of the pipe into the tank. In the distance I could hear the occasional mooing of cows. I got out of my vehicle and stood at the water’s edge and did something that I used to do many times as a child. I picked up a small pebble and tossed it into the tank. Small ripples branched out from where the pebble hit the water and then dissipated quickly until once again the water was still and like a mirror. I then picked up a large rock and tossed it up in the air into the middle of the tank and this time the ripples were much larger and took longer to dissipate. Finally, I picked up a large piece of deadwood and threw it across the tank to see if I could throw it to the other side without striking the water. Well, I didn’t quite make it and the piece of deadwood slapped the water near the far bank and water splashed outward causing not only a multitude of ripples, but it also splashed water out of the tank and onto the far bank. And you know what? After a few minutes, the ripples disappeared and again the mirror was whole. The trees and sky were no longer distorted in the water.

            About that time, a thought came to me. Perhaps the thought was even placed in my head by God Himself. The thought was that what I had done in those fifteen minutes or so and the effects of my actions had a deeper meaning. Let’s pretend for a few moments. Let’s make believe the mirror-like artesian tank is ourselves. One day you’re just going through life and things seem to be doing fine. Then something fairly insignificant happens that causes a few ripples in your life. That’s the pebble. Maybe your microwave oven stops working. It’s certainly a nuisance and it’s going to cost a little to replace, but a quick trip to the store and the purchase of a new microwave solves the problem. Thus, the ripples subside, and your life is back to being fine again. A week later you’re driving home from work and an intoxicated person in another car veers into your lane and hits your car. You aren’t seriously injured, but you’re sore and you have some burns on your neck from when the airbag deployed. The worst of it is your car is a total loss. You loved that car and it was only a few months old. But the drunk driver had insurance and within a couple of weeks the insurance company pays for a new car and little bit for your pain and suffering. Within a month those large ripples from a large rock smooth out and once again your life is fine. Yes, you’ll carry the memory of the disruption of your life and you’ll never forget how scary that accident was at the time, but when it’s all said and done your life is made whole again.

            A few months later things are going fine and then a truly terrible thing happens. A loved one dies unexpectantly. This is like that large piece of deadwood slapping the water. It shakes your world to the core. You’re never going to be the same again. Remember some of the water splashed out of the tank? That water is gone forever as it either soaks into the ground or evaporates within a few minutes. The loss of your loved one cannot be replaced by anyone else. It feels as if a giant hole has been created in your life and the sadness, anger, depression, anxiety, and then finally acceptance of how your life has changed occurs. But you know what? Eventually, when enough time passes, even the giant ripples from that event subside. You’ll always miss the person that you’ve lost, but your life will become whole again. It may not be the same as it was and there may always be moments when you miss your loved one and sadness appears again, but you’ll again be whole. It will just be a new whole compared to before.

            I guess my point is that things are going to come along in life, some great and some small, that disrupt or change your world. But despite it not seeming possible when the events have just happened, your life will regain balance. I might add that if we allow God to help us through those events, then a peace that truly does pass all understanding will one day envelope our lives. There’s one other thing that I want to point out. Nobody escapes life without those days of disruption and sorrow. But with God’s help we can once again be made whole.

My grandfather is right by the water. My grandmother is on the left behind him.

The picture was taken in October of 1964.

This picture of the tank was taken in April of 2007.

The trees and shrubbery are much larger now.

Cows and Baths

            I’ve been around cows much of my life. I’m not a “cowboy” and I wouldn’t want to wrangle the critters for a living. But I couldn’t help but notice some things about cows. As big as they are and as fat as they are, they can go places that you just wouldn’t think it would be possible. I’ve seen them cross creeks that are filled with mud and water and yet I doubt that the best of 4x4’s that are manufactured could cross those creeks. I also noticed that when they’re eating they tend to spread out and fill up several acres, but when they decide to go to another pasture, they line up single file and go where they’re going like a well-trained army. Perhaps the single most obvious thing about the cows that I’ve been around is that they are essentially what Samuel L. Jackson said about pigs in the movie, “Pulp Fiction”, they are filthy animals. Now, I’m not going to go into the depth of their filthiness, but nothing seems to bother them where this is concerned. It’s absolutely amazing what doesn’t bother them.

            All this brings to mind several television advertisements featuring cows. I don’t mind telling you that the cows featured in these ads are a cut above the regular critters that I’ve seen. Noticing this about the TV cows caused me to wonder. It’s not like cows are smart enough to follow directions and go take a bath. That means there is some poor person whose occupation is to bathe the cows. Now, I ask you, was there ever really a kid who when asked what he wants to be when he grows up, said, “I want to bathe cows”? I’m torn between feeling sorry for such a person for being stuck washing off cows or being happy for the person that they get to do what they always wanted to do.

            I’m so very thankful that there are people who feel called to be doctors and nurses. Frankly, some people are as filthy as cows and we all have that capacity when we are sick. I have been fortunate enough to not have spent much time as a patient in a hospital. I am a very private person. That’s basically my way of saying that I’m shy and I don’t want anyone to see me in all my glory. In January of 2013 I had to spend 4 days in the hospital. On the third day of my incarceration a nurse wheels in a cart to my room and announces that she is there to give me a bath. Whoa, Nellie! It’s true that I was hooked up to an IV and was a tad on the weak side due to the illness that put me in such a compromising situation. But I looked her in the eye and said, “I can take a shower myself.” Well, she looked doubtful and I told her to just come back in about 15 minutes and I would be clean. The IV was hooked onto a tall metal stand that had wheels. Me and that IV stand took a shower together. It was a little tricky only being able to use one hand, but I was more flexible than I had previously thought. While this little story is true and the humor is there for all to share, the truth is there are many people in hospitals who simply cannot take showers or bathe themselves. Thank goodness for those nurses who do the job that they do. I know that doctors see it all. Thank goodness for the ones who roll-up their sleeves and look at injuries, wounds, and all manner of human illnesses in order to help people get well. I think that perhaps the hardest thing to see my mother go through during the time leading up to her passing was her loss of dignity. She had to rely on nurses and other medical professionals to do everything for her. I believe that I got my shyness from her. I find myself thinking about the years to come for me. I remember reading about how the actor James Coburn died. He was sitting in his recliner listening to his favorite music on headphones and peacefully fell asleep. That’s how I hope I go. I might even take a sudden death in a car accident or some such calamity over having to go the way that my mother did. Of course, I won’t have a choice in the matter. What I do know is that I don’t want to be one of those TV cows and have to be bathed by someone. The time for being bathed by someone is when we are babies. I don’t want to be a baby again. They are sweet, beautiful, and wonderful additions to our lives, but by the time you get old you may be sweet, beautiful, and wonderful in spirit, but the body has taken a detour into “The Outer Limits” and as for me, I don’t want somebody washing this alien body when it’s at it’s worst.

Play It Again Sam

            I’ve had a lot of younger people ask me how I learned to play the guitar. When I say younger, I’m talking about people under 40. The first thing I tell them is that I didn’t start out playing guitar. I started on the piano. I grew-up in a family where everyone played the piano. I took piano lessons for only one year. I liked it, but it took a lot of work to get better and at the age of 9 I didn’t want to put in that work. My father also played the guitar and I had been hearing him play since I could remember. He wasn’t a great guitarist though. He knew basic chords and essentially played only well enough to sing along to the songs that he most enjoyed – country classics. He played songs that included “Hey Good Lookin”, “Bouquet of Roses”, “Pistol Packin’ Mama”, “San Antonio Rose”, “Walking The Floor Over You”, and “Detour”. At the time, I wasn’t a big fan of country music. I was more interested in The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, The Beach Boys, Paul Revere and The Raiders, and The Monkees. I eventually came to love those country songs and do so very much still.

            When I was about 13-years-old I wanted to learn to play the guitar. My father let me play his guitar, but it was a very difficult guitar to play. It had a short-scale making it hard to play bar chords and the action was set too high making it so that I had to press down on the strings very hard in order to play it. I learned a few chords such as C, D, G and E. F, Bb, But, B, and A were a little harder to play on that guitar. I didn’t get serious about playing the guitar though until I was 15. Probably the major reason that I started to get better was I got my own guitar for Christmas when I was 15. The action was far better, and the scale was normal. I lived and breathed playing guitar after getting that guitar. Herein lies the reason so many younger people don’t learn to play an instrument. It takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work. Too often young people of the past 30 years would rather play video games or watch someone else play and sing via videos.

            During the summer before I turned 16, I took some guitar lessons at a local music store. The problem was the teacher wanted to start me out with “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and “Row Row Row Your Boat”. Well, I had gone far beyond that on my own. I had bought a Mel Bay guitar chord book after getting that guitar and I learned every chord that I could. I started to play bar chords and learned lead guitar licks. I was learning most of the songs that I played simply by listening to the records and figuring out what they were doing. I also got a bass guitar that summer and it came with a record that had two versions of each song on it. One was the full version while the other didn’t have the bass guitar playing. It allowed me to play along with the song. Learning the bass also provided another way to learn the scales. I fairly well devoured anything by Paul McCartney and the studio bassists who I didn’t know their names at the time, but they were the best. These included Joe Osborn, Carol Kaye, and Ray Pohlman.

            My typical day when I was 15, 16, and 17 was to go to school and then come home and practice in my room for 4 or 5 hours. I came out long enough to eat dinner and was back at it. Doing that obviously allowed me to get better, but it was definitely hard work and determination that was important to my development. I wrote my first song when I was 15 (although I had tried to write songs prior to that, I didn’t write anything that was organized the way a song should be) and it was called, “It Must Be Love”. I started writing songs all the time. I freely admit that most of those songs were inferior and essentially songs that I learned how to write a song with. Another reason for getting better on the guitar was having another guitarist to learn from and visa versa. My friend Lonny Schonfeld and I started to play guitar together in November of 1972. We spent hours and hours practicing. The great thing was he would show up with some chord or guitar lick and I would have a new one and we traded off. Getting together with Lonny as a duet was one of the most productive times of my life while learning the guitar. Our abilities and how good we were getting seemed to accelerate at the speed of light. The difference in that first year was amazing. We were just two kids still learning when we met and by the next October, we were playing live gigs in clubs. But the learning didn’t stop there. It never stops.

            Well, here I am 64-years-old now and I would be a liar if I told you that I play as often today as I did for most of my life after 15. The great thing is I have literally gotten a lifetime of learning and even if I go a few days without playing, it’s like I had just kept going. All of that learning was what I called it earlier. It was hard work and determination. I’ve written about 600 songs over the years and while many of them were songs only good enough to learn by, I’ve accumulated over 100 songs that I believe to be of quality. Chances are pretty good that I will continue to play and sing until I can’t. Eventually, I’ll get to old. Arthritis and other age-related conditions will no doubt one day halt my playing. But what a great trip it has been and will continue to be for now.

            The lesson to be learned here is that anything worth doing and that you’re inspired to do is going to take time, hard work, and determination. My brother-in-law is a fantastic carpenter/craftsman. He has all of these saws and tools that might as well be from Mars to me, but he can make some beautiful things with them. It didn’t just come naturally to him. He has spent as many years learning that craft as I have the guitar. I know some guys who can take a car engine apart completely, repair or modify it, and put it back together. The darn things run incredibly well afterwards. It took time and work to learn how to do that. I’m a bit behind the times when it comes to cars. In my younger years I changed out parts by necessity on a variety of cars, but I wasn’t interested in learning that trade. So, if you’re still young and there’s something that you really want to learn how to do, then roll up your sleeves and spend the time it will take to learn whatever it is. If you do, then one day you’ll finish doing something and you’ll stand back and look at what you’ve done and think, “I did that.” You’ll feel pride for a job well done and for staying with it. As Ringo Starr sang, “It Don’t Come Easy”.

Getting my first guitar - Christmas 1970

The Great Airwick Caper

              Friday nights in early 1973 were very special for me. A typical Friday night would perhaps start with me going over to my girlfriend’s house (Terry) and sitting in her parlor (how quaint). Her parents still didn’t allow her to go out on single dates, so we would just spend time together in that little parlor. Sometimes I would serenade her on my guitar or play something for her on their upright piano. I was usually wearing my standard outfit of the day. A flannel shirt, some brush denim pants or a pair of corduroys, desert boots, and as wide a belt as possible that always matched the shoes in color. I also had a leather watch band that was at least 2 inches wide. I was stylin’ and then some!

            Terry and I would steal a kiss or two, but nothing long cause her parents were in the other room and could and would pop in from time to time to just “see how we were doing”. I liked her parents. They were very nice to me. I never felt judged or looked down upon by them. They would end up being much more to me years later after I had kids and we still went to the same church. Terry’s mother would sometimes work in the nursery at the church during the service and she became very attached to my daughter. They were always very sweet to me in those years long after Terry was married with children as I was.

            Most of those Friday evenings were a time for Terry and me to just be together. As usual, 10 o’clock was time for me to go. We would step out onto the porch and talk a little more, kiss a little more, and just hold each other a little. But when the porch light flashed, it was time to hit the road. My Friday evening didn’t end there though. Not even close. On one particular Friday evening I had arranged to pick up my friend Lonny about 10:30 and we would go cruising in the car. This was a common event during those days. I picked-up Lonny and the first thing he said was, “I need to stop and get something for my Mom before we cruise around.”

            “No, problem.” I replied.

            We drove to the nearby grocery store that was open until 11 o’clock and Lonny ran into the store while I waited in the car. The car was my mother’s 1967 Chevy Nova. Not a speed-mobile, but it was freedom. Lonny got back in the car and threw the bag on the floorboard behind us.

            “What’s in the bag?” I asked.

            “A couple of those Airwick solid air fresheners. My mom wants to try them out.” He replied.

            “Cool”, I said.

            Then we started on our long drive around. Just cruising around and listening to tunes on the AM radio. It was all the Chevy had. No FM, no cassette, no 8-track, just the AM radio, but the best radio station in Texas was KILT 610 and they played great top 40 tunes of the day. On that drive we listened to songs like “Stuck In The Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel, “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon, “Jambalaya” by The Blue Ridge Rangers (John Fogerty of CCR), “Hi Hi Hi” by Paul McCartney and Wings, “Do It Again” by Steeley Dan, “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John, “Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins and Messina, and “Hummingbird” by Seals and Crofts. We would turn the sound down and talk when songs like “Tie A Yellow Ribbon” by Tony Orlando and Dawn, “Me and Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, and “Sing” by The Carpenters came on. No offense to those artists, but we were just not into those songs. There was one song that elicited a debate as to its worthiness to be heard. For some unknown reason, I liked the song “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?” by Hurricane Smith. Lonny thought it was horrid! Keep in mind that all of these songs were new hits of the day. That list reads like a greatest hit’s compilation from the classic rock years. We got spoiled in those days with the variety and great music that was common at the time.

            The drive took us down neighborhood streets throughout the Spring Branch area of Houston. He always drove through a Jack-in-the-Box and got a couple of tacos, a super-scoop of fries, and a large Dr. Pepper with instructions to “be cool with the ice”. $3 would fill the tank of my mother’s car and we wouldn’t use but about a quarter of a tank of gas. Yea, gas was still about 23 cents a gallon. Most of the stores closed by 10 o’clock in those days. While we were sitting in line at the Jack-in-the-Box, I noticed a dark colored sedan sitting across the street idling with two guys sitting in it. The car looked familiar and I realized that I had seen it several times while we were driving around. I thought it was just a coincidence.

            We got our food and drove down Long Point Dr. and pulled into the big parking lot for a strip mall center about halfway between my house and Lonny’s. It was time to dig in and start working on the svelte figure I now display. I was about to take a bite of a taco when I saw that car again. There was something odd about it. It pulled into the parking lot with it’s headlights off and started to speed through the parking lot, circling around and then coming up lickity-split behind our car finishing with a screech of the brakes. Before I knew what was happened both the men in the car got out of their car and ran up to our windows. One on each side with flashlights shining in our stunned eyes. What on Earth was going on?

            It was a cool night, so we had the windows rolled-up. The guy on Lonny’s side banged on the window and then shone his flashlight onto a police badge while loudly saying, “Put your hands on the dash.”

            We were then ordered to exit the car. The guy on my side ordered me to move back to the trunk and said, “Put your butt up against the car.” I complied. This guy was a Dirty Harry wannabee and he no doubt had a .44 magnum that would blow my head clean off.

            Meanwhile, the other cop had Lonny put his butt against the right front fender. My cop just stood there looking at me and then admonished me to “Don’t move a muscle” while he shined his flashlight into the back seat of the car. Lonny’s cop was looking at Lonny’s driver’s license closely and then Lonny’s face and then the license and so on. Finally, he was satisfied that Lonny wasn’t the person he was looking for. But these guys probably felt like they needed to save face or something. So, my cop says, “What’s in the paper bag?”

            I looked at him and simply told the truth. “Two Airwick solid air fresheners.” The look on that cop’s face was priceless. He just didn’t know what to do with that answer. So, he ordered me to get the bag and very slowly show him.

            I picked-up the bag and opened it and he shined his light down into the bag revealing two “Hawaiian Breeze” Airwick solid air fresheners. The cop just looked at me like I was a nut. The cops decided that we weren’t John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd after all and left as quickly as they had arrived. Lonny and I got back in the car, looked at each other, and wondered how we made that foray into “The Twilight Zone”. I asked Lonny what his cop was asking him about, and he said that they had a report of a runaway that looked a lot like him and that they had been following us around all night. We both shrugged and went back to our now cold tacos.

            It was a pretty strange event for us and something that we have talked about over the years. We’ve played the “what if” game. What if they had arrested us? What if this and what if that. In the end, it turned out just fine, but to this day I don’t tempt fate. I buy some other brand of air fresheners.

Bo-Bo's Mom: Keeper of the Flame

            It was late 1964 and we had been living in our house for just over a year. We had become acquainted with the neighbors and the neighborhood cliques. On our street there were two families that were related. The fathers of each family were brothers. One of the fathers was an ambitious man, Catholic by way of his wife, and father of six kids. The other father possessed little in the way of ambition and was distinctly an unpleasant man to deal with. Then there was another family who had lived in the neighborhood the longest and were treated by the other neighbors as though they were royalty. They could do no wrong so far as the neighbors were concerned. On the night we moved into our house the King and Queen came to introduce themselves. Mom put on some coffee and was at first glad for a friendly visit. That lasted until the Queen stated that they mainly just wanted to come over and let my parents know how things were done in the neighborhood. In other words, they wanted to lay down the rules. All hell the Queen!

            Then there were the quiet neighbors. Looking back on it now, I believe they were just trying to avoid the neighborhood junta. Smart move. On the street to the west of our street I only knew one family. It was the family of a friend of mine. Thomas’ mother was a housewife and always nice to me. I didn’t know Thomas’ father well as he seemed to work all the time. He was an insurance salesman. Thomas was in my second and fourth grade classes during elementary school and we were good friends, but not as close as me and my friend Eddie.

            There were a couple of interesting and rather odd households on the street behind our street. First, there was the house with the two teenage girls. They were older teens than my sister Barbara. They were also considered to be as wild as they come. The evidence for this reputation was mainly seen in their summertime escapades. Their parents both worked, and the girls were left to their own devices during the day. They would often dawn swimming suits (bikini’s no less!), climb on top of the roof of the house to sunbathe, and thereby cause a traffic jam of teenage boys driving by to catch the show. Music would pour forth from a transistor radio and at times they would provide a dance review for the neighborhood. They were proficient at “The Jerk”, “The Fly”, “The Watusi”, “The Swim”, and especially “The Twist”. My mother would sarcastically refer to their house as “The Honey Hole” because it would draw the boys like bees to honey.

            Of all these fine neighbors, perhaps one of the more interesting to observe was a family of three living three doors down from us on the street behind us. There were vacant lots behind us and beside us, so the rather strange behavior of this family was hard to miss. The only child, whose nickname was “Bo-Bo”, was a grade younger than I was. He was decidedly lacking in social graces and would generally do the dumb thing in a given situation despite the smart thing flashing in neon lights with a carnival barker yelling in his megaphone, “This is the right thing. Do This.” If the sign said, “Turn right”, then he immediately turned left. Bo-Bo’s mom was apparently not much smarter. This is where I tell you about that fateful day late in 1964 when the clothes dryer and Bo-Bo’s mom had a rather unfortunate altercation.

            I was outside playing sandlot baseball in the vacant lot next to the King and Queen’s house and directly in front of the Bo-Bo house. Several of us were playing. The Prince, me, two of the ambitious brother’s sons, Thomas and his brother Charles, and a kid named Lester were having a good time. Bo-Bo was there too and was up to bat. I was playing centerfield and therefore I was closest to the Bo-Bo house.

            Most families in those days couldn’t afford a clothes dryer. Most moms still used clothes lines in the backyard for the most part. But somehow or other Bo-Bo’s father, a wrecker-driver that I would later be reminded of when watching “Tow-Mater” in the Disney Movie “Cars”, had purchased his wife a clothes dryer. After this incident I was reticent about using a clothes dryer for several years to come. But, to be honest, I still have no idea how what happened came about.

            There I was standing in centerfield waiting on Bo-Bo to bat when all the sudden I heard a blood curdling scream come from behind me. It was obviously a woman in great distress. We all turned around to see what was going on and bursting through the back door of the house Bo-Bo’s mother came running and screaming. I can understand why she would be screaming given her hair was on fire. No joke. It really was. She was running wildly in circles and slapping herself on the head and at one point dropped to the ground, bent over, and started to pound the top of her head into the dirt. Meanwhile, another neighbor lady who was outside grabbed a bucket, filled it with water from the spicket on the side of the house, and then doused Bo-Bo’s mom’s head with the water. Bo-Bo came running and screaming after watching the whole thing at which time his mother passed smooth out on the now muddy ground behind their house.

            The other lady told all of us to go home, but to be honest this was a show none of us could afford to miss. Someone called an ambulance and before it could arrive, Bo-Bo’s father showed up having heard the call go out on his shortwave radio in the wrecker. He wrapped his wife’s head in a towel and was consoling her when the ambulance showed-up. The good news was that she wasn’t really hurt at all. No burns to her actual head. Her hair was not so fortunate though. It took a few months for her to start looking normal again. Bo-Bo’s father was later seen manhandling the electric dryer out the back door where he then loaded it on the back of the wrecker, tied it down, and drove away. It was never to be seen again.

            The whole thing was at first neighborhood folklore, but within 18 months or so it was relegated to a mere passing description of the people living in that house. A new kid would move into the neighborhood and as you explained to him who lived where and so forth, you would give a brief explanation that would encapsulate the important things that you needed to know about the family living there.

            For instance, “A veterinarian lives in that house and he mows his yard at night”. Or, “They have six kids and their father has one brown eye and one blue eye. Very strange.” But nothing quite topped, “The mom in that house caught her hair on fire and the dad drives a wrecker and sometimes the kid, “Bo-Bo”, wears one of his mother’s wigs.” That one always got a “wow” and a nod that seemed to say, “Impressive.” The house itself also earned a nickname after the incident. It became known as “The Boo-Boo House”.

Green and Cue Days

            It was the fall of 1972 and a Friday night. Me and my friend Keven were on the prowl. I had my mother’s car for the evening. We were supposed to be hanging out at his house. But since his parents had gone square dancing (for real) we were doing some cruising and seeing what was out there. We soon decided to go to a local teen hangout called “The Green and Cue”. It had indoor putt-putt and pool tables. We were there to play pool and see if there were any girls to flirt with. I freely admit that I was the flirt while Kevin was very shy around girls.

            So, we played several games of 8-ball and regular pool, fed some quarters into the jukebox, bought a cold drink and something to munch on and generally had a great time. My eyes may not be Irish, but they were certainly roving. Hey, I was 17! We had just about had enough pool for the evening when a very attractive age appropriate girl stopped at our pool table and started to talk. I was thinking of all the possibilities while Kevin played pool. We finished the game and told her that we were about to leave. I was going to ask her for her name and phone number. Hope sprang eternal in those days. She was my type. Dark hair down to the middle of her back, dressed smartly in a pair of jeans and matching top, not too made-up, a pretty face and just the right height and weight. Well, she surprised both of us when she asked if we could give her a ride home. Could this really be happening?

            So, we go outside into the parking lot and head over to my car. Now, I might remind you again that it was 1972. My mother’s car was a 1967 Chevy Nova. In those golden days the front seat was usually a bench seat. I’m reminded of a song by a group called Cake. It goes something like, “Stick shift and safety belts, bucket seats will never do.” Thankfully, none of those things were in that car. Oh, I guess the safety belts were, but they were pushed down under the seat to get them out of the way. No warning buzzers in those days. We get over to the car and I’m fully expecting all three of us to sit on that front bench seat. And, as it turned out, we did. There was just one problem. Kevin’s shyness was in full regalia that night. I unlocked the passenger door and while I went around to the driver’s door Kevin and this girl stood there looking inside the car. Just exactly what was the problem? I sat down and looked at them and that’s when Kevin did something unfathomable. HE got in first and scooted over next to me and let the girl sit by the door! I was completely baffled and bewildered. Not to mention embarrassed beyond belief. What must she have thought? I get shivers thinking about even now.

            Well, we drove her to her house, and she got out and before I could get her name and phone number she said, “Thanks!” and walked quickly away to her front door. Kevin didn’t immediately move over by the door, so I gave him a punch in the arm. We got to the end of the street and I stopped the car and just looked at Kevin.

            “What is your problem, man?” I asked

            “What do you mean?” he replied.

            “Why on God’s green Earth would you get in the car first? I pleaded.

            “Well, I figured since she would be getting out of the car it would be easier that way.” He said.

            I slowly laid my head on the steering wheel and then started to shake it from side to side. I was genuinely hoping at that point that I would never see that girl again. That’s saying something for me back then. I’m afraid that I berated Kevin on this heinous act. He seemed to not understand though, but I think he really did. I think he was just shy and made a goofy move.

            Well, we lived through it and within a month I met the girl that I would date for the rest of high school. Ultimately, no harm, no foul. But I still cringe at the thought of how it must have looked when we pulled out of the parking lot of “Green and Cue”.

Ships Passing In The Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Pastel drawing by Dad of nurse on hospital ward.

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

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

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

The Old Wooden Bridge

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

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

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

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

 

This is how the road once looked.

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

Everything In Its Own Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is That All There Is?

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

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

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

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

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

It's Going To Be Ok

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Evil

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Falcon Soars No More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green and Purple Pills

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

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

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

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

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

 

https://youtu.be/aJrcE8HwwuY

A Week On The Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Gauntlet of Fire

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

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

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

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

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

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