Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Let us now praise famous men"; In Memory of a Great Man

This one is hard to write.

I rise to honour the memory of a great man; my friend, Leroy Yarbrough.

I can't speak for the ladies, but for men, male role models growing up are a critical part of our development. We watch them; we want to be like them; we emulate them.

When the role model is a positive one, we owe them a large debt of gratitude. If, as adults, we can also count our role models as friends, that means even more.

Leroy was the Minister of Music at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, during the 1960's and 1970's. He was a strong influence for literally hundreds of young people (including me), an impeccable role model; indeed, the strongest male role model in my life after my Dad, his father, and Robert's Dad. He served that role for ALL of us in the youth choir (125 strong at all times), and was a friend and companion to all the adults with whom he had contact.

He was a true Southern Gentleman, a Christian of the highest order (I don't throw that one around lightly).

Leroy had more energy than anybody I have ever known. He was "more fun than a barrel of monkeys"; always instigating some kind of fun activity, always cracking jokes, always clever and witty.

He was an absolutely brilliant musician. The finest. He had impeccable taste and class, was a fabulous organist, and fantastic conductor. He was also one of the most organized people I've ever known.

He was born and raised in Georgia, married his high school sweetheart (the only woman he ever dated) Edwyna, and they had two nice little girls, younger than me, Melody and Gina.

After he left Trinity, he wound up at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, where he influenced ANOTHER generation of young people.

He retired and planned to just come "home" to San Antonio and live, but First Presbyterian was without a Minister of Music and begged him to come on an "interim" basis while they searched. The "interim" stint lasted 11 years, through three senior ministers (all of whom begged him to stay on "just one more year.")

Leroy loved to travel. He literally went around the world more than once; was well-known in Europe and especially England. He finally reached the point where he could tell First Pres, "No, this time I mean it." They had his retirement party in February, 2008. He and Edy planned to hit the road; they had a number of stops to make in the US but were planning to hit some of the more exotic locales they had missed along the way. After 52 years, their kids were grown and married, they finally had enough money and time, and were going to "do it right." All that remained was a trip to the doctor the next day. At that visit, the doctor told him he had a fast-growing, almost always swiftly fatal, abdominal cancer.

Leroy approached everything he ever did with as much energy and intensity as he possessed (and he possessed a formidable amount of both). When he was directing us, he demanded no less than perfection. Now, if your best gift was to "make a joyful noise", that was ok by him---but he demanded that you make your BEST noise. WOE unto he or she who slacked, or didn't quite make the right pitch, or entered or cut off at the wrong time. Memorably, he stopped us more than once DURING A PERFORMANCE, turned to the audience, told them we were going to try again, and started us over. He delivered nothing less than his own personal best every single time, and expected no less from everyone around him.

When he got the cancer diagnosis, he attacked it with his customary freight-train-subtle manner. Unfortunately, this time he had run into something that was impervious to his icy glare, his razor-sharp criticism, or his gentle correction. He fought valiantly, but lost. After San Antonio exhausted their bag of medical tricks, he was transferred to M. D. Anderson here in Houston.

I was privileged to see him one last time at M. D. Anderson, just last week. He was very weak and tired, and I humiliated myself by bawling openly throughout the visit; nevertheless, he greeted me with his usual warm smile, twinkly eye, and humorous remarks.

Leroy: Nick, it's great to see you, man! How have you been?!

Me (crying, but smiling): Oh, Leroy, you know, the usual, fat, dumb, and happy (patting belly).

Leroy: Well, you sure don't want to try the diet I've been on...

Here's his obituary from the San Antonio Express-News.

By the way, the SA Express-News and Porter Loring Mortuary had better be glad Leroy's in Heaven, instead of here. They called him "Harold", which was his real first name. Want one of those icy stares? Go ahead and call him "Harold" and see what happens. If you do, though, I want to know ahead of time so I can be away from the general vicinity when it happens.


The "Celebration" of Leroy's life (which he planned down to the last note) is this Saturday, so back I go to San Antonio.

I don't know what they're thinking, having it at First Pres. They'd better see about the availability of the Municipal Auditorium or even Freeman Coliseum. We're all going, and so are all his kids from Seminary, and at least 1,000 from the old Trinity congregation.

A life truly well lived.

Ecclesiasticus, Chapter 44

Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us.
The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning.
Such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power, giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies:
Leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people, wise and eloquent are their instructions:
Such as found out musical tunes, and recited verses in writing:
Rich men furnished with ability, living peaceably in their habitations:
All these were honoured in their generations, and were the glory of their times.
There be of them, that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported.
And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them.
But these were merciful men, whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Good Physician

Mother has been in hospital here in San Antonio (I write this from Dad's apartment, where we are getting ready to go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve); she's been treated at the South Texas Medical Center by a dazzling array of doctors in a variety of specialities---none of whom have been able to help her at all.

Since she's been in the nursing home, she's been confused, whacked, and otherwise "out of it". She has slept the past two months away.

Enter H. Edwin Tamayo, MD. Dr. Tamayo is a Board Certified Internal Medicine Specialist with impeccable credentials (University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio Medical School; Internal Medicine specialization same institution; Board Certification Exams, then faculty teaching physician at University Hospital, Audie Murphy VA Hospital, and UTSA).

In September, 2007, Dr. Tamayo resigned his teaching position at UTSA. Effectively, he jettisoned the traditional medical practice (the financial end, including an office in a medical tower, a receptionist, nurse, transcriptionist, records clerk, and a veritable phalanx of insurance filing/billing experts) and treats people strictly at their homes. He does ONLY housecalls!

He started treating Mother about 10 days ago. He arrived at the nursing home wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and sandals on his bare feet. It was freezing outside. My sister asked him what was up with the sandals. He stated, "Well, if your feet are cold, your hands will be warm. Since I'm going to be touching my patients, I want my hands warm, so my feet need to be cold." An unconventional approach, to say the least.

He immediately determined that Mother's meds were TOTALLY wrong; he took her off almost all of them. He changed her diet and the entire approach to her care.

He has called the nursing home every day since he started treating her; every day. He checks on her progress and makes recommendations for her care based on what they tell him. How many doctors do you know who do that?

When I last saw her (Thanksgiving), she was barely conscious, almost catatonic in bed; she slept the whole time I was here except for the last day.

When I walked into her room today, she was SITTING UP ON THE SIDE OF THE BED, DRESSED, and TALKING. Not talking well, and she'll never walk again---but WE ARE TAKING HER TO MY SISTER'S TOMORROW FOR CHRISTMAS DINNER! She was coherent, though she had trouble with speech. It was a dramatic turnaround, which wouldn't have happened without the intervention of Dr. Tamayo.

So much for traditional medicine.

So, this dude must charge a fortune, right?

Here's what he does: when he walks in the room, he hands you a self-addressed stamped envelope, empty. He says, "Pay me whatever you think I'm worth; if you don't send anything, I'll never know. If you send thousands of dollars, I'll never know. This goes straight to my bookkeeper; I'm relying on God to provide for my family, and so far it's working."

He accepts no insurance, no medicare, no traditional payment schemes.

Hats off to The Good Physician. I hope he lives a long and prosperous life. He's certainly helped Mom.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


You know, my parents preached "quality" to me my entire life, and sometimes it just didn't sink in.

My Dad always believes in buying top quality, even if you have to pay more, even if you have to wait to save enough or you have to buy used to get better quality.

He's always used Craftsman tools, for example. While Snap-on might be better, they don't sell Snap-on at retail stores. Craftsman power tools may have been eclipsed these days, but their hand tools remain the same. (They may be eclipsed, but I have a garage full: lawn mower, blower, edger, trimmer, weed eater, all Craftsman, all excellent).

For years and years, I wore Hathaway shirts. I just loved them; they were beautifully made, by hand, from fine materials. When they got up to $100, I started wearing Turnbull and Asser (shirtmakers to HRH Charles, Prince of Wales). Hathaway went out of business; couldn't compete with cheap chinese labour (Hathaway proudly made in Maine, USA).

These days, I like Rountree and York (Dillards' house brand); the closest thing to the old Hathaways I've found. They just look and feel nice.

I bought a Countess Mara tie the other day, and it felt the same as they always have: thick, expensive, luxurious.

Johnston and Murphy and Cole Haan shoes: you get what you pay for. Eccos, too. You buy cheap shoes and that's what you've got. You buy quality, and not only does it hold up better and look better, it's more comfortable. Quality shows.

Which brings me to Calphalon cookware. I used Mother's hand-me-downs, then bought myself a set of Farberware which I used for years---right up until I discovered Calphalon.

There may be better cookware, but I'm not aware of it. It distributes heat properly; things do not stick; neither have I burnt anything yet. Cleanup's a breeze. My first few pieces were "Simply Calphalon", the cheapest they make; I now have a pretty extensive set of Calphalon Contemporary.

I've succeed in getting Nathan hooked on the above brands just like me.

There's a Calphalon outlet store here. I drove over there today to buy Nathan's Christmas present (Contemporary 8, 10, and 12 inch omelette pans). So he gets home from a date and promptly says, "Hey, let's go to the Calphalon store!" Yikes. So I went and got the shopping bag out of the trunk of the convertible, handed it to him and said, 'Merry Christmas". We then went out there and promptly exchanged for the ones he really wanted (fine with me, I want him to have what he wants). It was worth it, he was so proud of them.

I love buying quality goods.

(After I posted this, one more thing: I inherited my grandmother's cast iron skillets. I inherited them through Mother and Dad, who themselves inherited them. I now have ALL the cast-iron skillets, plus my aunt's cast iron Dutch Oven. I use the Calphalon for practically everything, but NOTHING tops a cast iron skillet for certain tasks, period. Bacon, sausage just tastes better from them. It is not possible to make cornbread without one (you are making corn cake if you make it in a cake pan, not cornbread). Speaking of quality--no idea how old Granny and Gramp's skillets were. Older than me. Possibly older than Dad. Many a delicious meal has come out of them. 85-100 years old and still work great? THAT's quality!).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

8 things

Ok, Kathy tagged me. Here we go:

8 TV Shows I watch:
1. Morning Joe on MSNBC
2. Pushing Daisies
3. How I Met Your Mother
4. Two and a Half Men
5. The Big Bang Theory
6. The CBS Evening News
7. The History Channel (too many individual shows to name)
8. Modern Marvels
9. West Wing re-runs
10. Testees

(I Love Lucy and Star Trek left off intentionally; I've seen all of them so many times I don't actually watch them much any more).

8 Favourite Restaurants

1. Perry's Steakhouse
2. Edomae Sushi
3. Singha Thai
4. House of Pies (Houston institution)
5. Palazzo's Italian (Westheimer location)
6. Molina's Mexican Cantina
7. McClard's, Hot Springs
8. El Fenix, Dallas
9. Panchito's, San Antonio
10. Snuffer's, Dallas

8 things that happened to me today
(I'm using yesterday as it's only 10am as I write this)

1. Started in on re-writes of resume
2. Perused Monster.com again
3. Called Dad
4. Surfed internet
5. Figured out formatting issues with Word 2007
6. Talked with fraternity brother
7. Groomed Coco (see below)
8. Groomed everybody else (jealousy)
9. Ate some chili I had made (too much chili powder! yuk!)
10. Went with Nathan to take Coco to his "forever home", which was 25 miles from here through some of the densest traffic in North America. By the time we were done, Nathan and I were both nervous wrecks.

8 Things I look forward to

2. Getting the house back to "normal" after Coco's departure
3. Learning how to cook the new "breakfast" recipe I just got
4. Learning how to grill steaks as well as Nathan
5. Getting more involved with some of the stuff going on at my church (they have a number of interesting ministries)
6. Surviving the Holidays
7. Football: all the Bowl Games on TV!!! Not to mention cheering on the Cowboys!
8. Possibly attending either the Alamo Bowl or the Houston Bowl or both
9. Did I mention getting a new job?
10. Getting back into a normal routine. One week of unemployment and I'm going nuts.

8 things I wish for:

1. Health, happiness, and peace for all my friends
2. New energy and vigour in Washington to rid the world of the Bush errors
3. A return to prosperity for our country
4. Sunshine. It's been cloudy and foggy here all week, which doesn't help.
6. "Smooth sailing" for Mother and Leroy
7. Ease of transition for Dad and Edwyna
8. Salvaging everything I can
9. To stay in Houston in my house
10. A new job.

If the Razorbacks would win the SEC, Baylor would go to a Bowl game, and the Cowboys would return to the Super Bowl, that would be just so much more icing on the cake.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's not what happens to you

it's what you do about it that matters.

The layoff was unexpected and traumatic. I believe---and was told by my boss (the Risk Manager) and HIS boss (VP-HR) that I had done an exemplary job. Both of them offered to write me glowing letters of recommendation, and that they would be glad to act as references for me.

My boss told me privately, as he took me to drinks and dinner, then helped me clean out my office, that (a) he fought like a demon to try to keep me, (b) offered up another employee instead--who unfortunately made less than half my salary, (c) didn't know what he was going to do without me, as he freely admitted that he had no idea how to do my job. The VP-HR told the President and CFO of the company, while they were in the meeting deciding who got the axe, that I had cleaned up the mess and gotten the department turned around and headed in the right direction.

It was strictly a numbers game---they had to find salaries that fit their requirements, and mine was one. (They also fired our Director of Training and our RECEPTIONIST, one of the best I've ever personally seen and a single mother with two little kids, along with two regional management staffs and regional managers, as well as demoting a VP to "Manager").

So, I wasn't mad. I mean, what does that get you? I had several interesting moments. I was calmly cleaning out my desk, putting stuff in boxes, and my boss was standing there looking like he had been punched in the stomach. He was not addressing me, he looked at the floor and said, "I just hate this."

When we loaded the last box in the car, he said, "You have handled this with more class and dignity than anyone I've ever seen." I said, "Well, I've always believed that a Gentleman loses with the same grace with which he wins; gracious in victory, gracious in defeat." He replied, "Well, then you're more of a gentleman than I am, because I'd be mad as hell."

I repeat: I'm not mad. Mad does no good. Just gets the blood pressure going. Unhappy, certainly. Frightened out of my wits. Determined to land on my feet. I will find a job, even with the recession/depression.

I have to believe the hand of God is in all this. It is that belief that is keeping me going.

I was working in the same job I'd had for 15 years in Arkansas. This came along out of the blue, was a vastly bigger, better opportunity (and has enhanced my resume) and I took it.

Two weeks after I got here, our biggest client at my little company in Arkansas went belly-up. So I would have been on the street then, totally unprepared, weighing 60 lbs more than I weigh now, with no clothes, no resume, no nothing.

It got Mother, Dad and me out of a declining (to the point of criminality, crack houses, gunshots, etc) neighborhood and into a better area.

It got Mother and Dad to San Antonio, where they have better medical care and better access to it, and my sister and her family to look after them, with me 3 hours away in Houston.

It got Nathan out of a tough situation in Arkansas and launched him on what I believe will be a spectacular career. He can now hold his head up with every member of his graduating class when he tells them of his job, his company, and where he lives. All he has to do is keep working with the same diligence he is applying now; keep his education going; keep after it, and he's going to wind up very, very well off. He'll be able to buy one of my friend Kathy Beaumont's houses and write a check for it by the time he's 40.

I was able to buy this house, which just "fell out of the sky", on an incredible interest rate with a loan I could not now get. Since I hadn't sold my Malvern house, and wasn't going to get anything for it anyway, I got one of the very last -0- down 30 year fixed rate loans offered before the collapse.

I just don't think all of these things were coincidental; I see the hand of God in them. If you want to laugh at me for that, go ahead.

If God has brought me this far, why would he desert me at this point?

When God closes a door, he opens a window somewhere else. I've just got to find that window.

Keep Looking Up!

From Malvie's Musings

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Well, easy come, easy go

I was laid off today (nice way of saying, "fired"). They had a 10% reduction in force, and I was one of the lucky ones whose number was up.

So, if anybody needs a top-notch Claim Manager, I'm available.

I'll be doing a nationwide job search; I can't be picky about where I wind up. At 51, I've got to max potential, so wherever the job is will be where I go.

Sometimes life just really does give you lemons.

Middle Aged Crazy, Convertibles, and Route 66

From Route 66

All my life, I've been fascinated with the legend of Route 66.

There was the popular TV show when I was an impressionable kid, aptly and simply titled "Route 66". In this show, two guys travel the country in a sharp Corvette convertible, to a sharp theme song. There is the other song, notably by Manhattan Transfer and Harry Connick, Jr., "If you ever....plan to motor west...". Lucy, Rick, Fred and Ethel kinda-sorta took Route 66 (at least part of it) on their epic trip to California. More recently, the movie "Cars" (one of my favourites) paid homage to the great "Mother Road".

Although I lived in California, I never DROVE there. I had a company car in Dallas which I turned in (Buick Skylark, burgandy/tan interior), and a company car which I picked up in LA (Chevrolet Caprice Estate Wagon--I was an "Assistant Associate Junior Executive" (Dagwood Bumstead's official title), so I got hand-me-down company cars...). So, as much as I've been to California, I've always FLOWN.

I'm bad about cars and shoes. Shoes, just call me Imelda. I have to stay out of DSW Shoe Warehouse like a drunk has to stay out of Spec's.

My (partial) list of cars (includes some, but not all, of the company cars; I can't remember them all): 1955 Dodge Royal Lancer 1966 Chevelle SS 396 1974 Vega 1975 Nova LN 1978 Chevrolet Malibu 1979 Ford Fairmont 1982 Toyota Celica 1980 Buick Skylark 1980 Pontiac Bonneville Brougham 1980 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Estate Wagon 1983 Cadillac Sedan DeVille 1984 Cadillac Sedan DeVille 1985 Chevrolet Caprice Classic 1987 Volvo 1987 Ford Taurus 1989 Lincoln Town Car 1990 Dodge Dynasty 1993, 1994, 1995 Chevrolet Cavalier 1996, 1997 Dodge Neon 1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo 1998 Dodge Ram Quad Cab 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan

I've always been car-crazy. My Aunt Shorty used to tool around in a Cadillac Convertible deVille. One of our neighbors growing up had a red Mustang convertible. In 1975, when I was a senior in high school, my cousin Jim's wife Marshall (whom I still think is one of the most gorgeous women I've ever personally seen) drove up at a family gathering in a 1975 Cadillac El Dorado convertible, powder blue, white leather interior, with her hair tied in a scarf a la Audrey Hepburn. I thought she was a movie star. Speaking of Audrey Hepburn, she drives a convertible in Roman Holiday and is gorgeous as ever... My brother in law, Phil, had a Miata convertible that he loved knocking around in. I thought that thing was GREAT. He sold it to his brother, drat the luck.

In any event, I have always been fascinated with the West, Route 66, and cars, especially convertibles, although I never owned one. I love travel, always have.


Fast forward to 2007. I was living in Malvern, Arkansas, doing the elder-care thing with Mother and Dad. I was running Compensation Managers (which was pretty easy to do). I was bored, depressed, and fat. On February 11, 2007, I turned 50 years old and pretty much had the standard American Male Middle Age Crisis. I was casting around for something (anything!) to break the monotony. Bored, lonely, depressed, fat. I had about $3,500 in a savings account, just little bits and pieces I'd saved. Figured I'd use it in an emergency. Well, if Fat-n-Fifty, bored, lonely and depressed isn't an emergency, what is? ;-)

So, what to do about it? I could have a helluva trip to Europe on $3,500, but then the money would be gone and I would be home and nothing would change. I was surfing the internet and got to thinking about convertibles. I'd just always figured them to be out of my league financially, and of course impractical as well. But the internets is an amazing thing. You can find all sorts of websites featuring all sorts of things. Cars.com, for example. AutoTrader.com for another. So I typed in "Convertible" and "$3,500" just to laugh at what jumped up---and was very surprised to learn that I could get a --not too old, not too worn-- convertible for LESS than the money I had available.

After considerable shopping (and not telling a soul), I settled on a black 1997 Chrysler Sebring jxi, gray leather interior. I called the lady up, she was most anxious to sell, and I agreed to come look at it. One thing: it was in Corona, California (Los Angeles). So what? I had some free Southwest tickets, so why not? Worst that could happen, I get there, don't like the car, and fly back home having had a weekend in SoCal. SoI told everyone I was taking Friday and Monday off. I declined to say where I was going.


At 6:00 am, I departed Little Rock Adams Field for Ontario Int'l Airport; she met me in the car. As soon as I drove it, I was shocked: it drove amazingly well. I loved it immediately. The previous owner (long story about not much: the lady owned a mechanic shop; the guy had a lot of work done and then didn't pay; he signed the car title over to her and she was selling) had taken the radio, so she and I drove to a stereo shop where I had a new Pioneer stereo put in.

I paid her cash and she signed the title and there I sat in Corona, California, at 1:00 in the afternoon PST, under a gorgeous Southern California sunny sky, in my brand-new-used 1997 convertible (License plate: "40 Oz"; the prior owner had been a young african-american gentleman, and I think he liked the 40 ounce beers ;-), thinking, "My GOD, what the HELL have I done!??!"

God not deigning to answer that question (knowing full well what I had done), I took the car to the nearest Jiffy Lube and had the oil changed while I sat at Denny's and had lunch. I then located a Wal-Mart, bought a flat of "Sam's Choice" water, a new Rubbermaid ice chest (gray, to match) that just exactly fit the right rear seat; ice; sunscreen; a floppy hat with a tie underneath, tasty snax and a Rand McNally atlas.

Thus equipped, I mapped my route from Corona to Palm Springs (more about my love affair with Palm Springs in another post), and set out for one of my favourite places on earth. Traveling through San Bernardino, I arrived in Palm Springs, top down, tunes blasting, feeling great. Sat by the pool taking in the ambiance and several--ok, many-- lovely views and lovely martinis, got to bed relatively early. Here is my photo of Palm Canyon Drive, taken standing up in the driver's seat:

From Route 66

The next day, I got up, got ready, and went out to the car. Looked at the tires; while they weren't bad, I decided a visit to Sam's in Palm Desert was a good idea. 2 hrs and 4 new Michelins later, I was on the road.

I took the I-10 to Phoenix; that's not strictly "Route 66" but it's the route I decided upon. Crossing the desert, car made it great. 108 degrees in the desert; top up (sun was shining brightly and I'm not THAT stupid), a/c blasting, radio blasting. I actually had the a/c on LESS than the top setting (good old Chrysler AirTemp Air Conditioning, baby).

From Route 66

Cruising along in the desert, I was struck by the austere beauty of the region. Some of the sand looked like it had lain undisturbed from the beginning of time. There was a strong sense of "purple mountains' majesty" as the mountains rose from the sand on either side of the interstate.

From Route 66

Arriving in Phoenix, I was struck (as I always am) by the lack of vegetation in a large, modern, beautiful American city. Every place I've ever lived has had vegetation all over the place; Houston, my current home, is basically where the Piney Woods of East Texas merge with the Coastal Plains grasslands. There's enough vegetation here for the entire STATE of Arizona.

From Route 66

Left Phoenix, headed north on IH 17. It was 115 degrees when I left Phoenix. You climb and climb and climb and then climb some more. 40 oz made it just fine. I was having a grand time, snapping pictures WHILE driving (we will not discuss motoring safety; I am an insurance professional!). Verde Valley was one of my favourite stops.

From Route 66

By the time I got to Sedona (another one of my favourite spots on the planet), it was 60 degrees and I had the top down as the stars were coming out. I had this very loose plan about returning. As an Aquarian, I don't like things just TOO planned out. My Virgo cousin is the exact opposite; any deviation disturbs him greatly. Me, I like to wing it.

From Route 66

So my vague plan was to stop at Flagstaff, Arizona for the night ("Flagstaff, Arizona, don't forget Winona..."; I was actually on IH 40 now, the freeway which replaced the "real" Route 66). What I failed to take into consideration was that (a) it was the height of the tourist season, and (b) Flagstaff is the jumping-off place for people touring the GRAND CANYON. Yikes. Every hotel was full, without exception. The restaurants were full of "typical Americans"---white (I saw no blacks at all), fat, and towing a passel of fat white kids with them.

So, I drove on, finally stopping at the Super 8 motel in Winslow, Arizona. I was standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see; unfortunately, there was no girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford slowing down to take a look at me. So, I ate at Denny's (there are millions and millions of Denny's in the west; kind of like McDonald's or Jack in the Box here, they are literally everywhere you look) and went to bed. Next morning, still no sign of the girl, my Lord, in the flat-bed Ford, so I left Winslow and headed east.

Passing across the Painted Desert, again I could not possibly describe the beauty. It was just plain fabulous. I nearly broke my neck and shutter-finger, along with just about wrecking the car, snapping my head right and left and taking pictures. Top down motoring, baby!

From Route 66

At the border of Arizona and New Mexico is the magical place called Window Rock. While the actual "Window Rock" is off the freeway, the range of which it's a part is cut out FOR the freeway. Beautiful. It's also the tribal capital of the Navajo tribe and their sacred ground. A word about the Native Americans: I have in my mind the commercial from the 70's featuring the chief with the single tear running down his cheek. Yeah, well, the modern image is a huge truck stop featuring !!!!INDIAN SOUVENIRS!!!! There are thousands of them. Every gas station. I guess everybody's got to make a living somehow...

From Route 66

Crossing into New Mexico, there was a distinct difference in the desert: LOTS more vegetation. Still just clumps of grass, but it RAINS there. Got to see Gallup, New Mexico. Nothing special, but I've heard about it all my life and it was fun to go there. Made it to Albuquerque and couldn't help but remember another American Icon: Bugs Bunny ("I KNEW I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque!"). Well, Bugs, I felt the same way, as the freeway system there is not exactly easy to figure out. I made it though, and when I came out of Albuquerque's valley on the other side of the mountains, suddenly things looked more familiar: it began to be the rolling grasslands of the Great Plains.

From Route 66

I've lived in Texas and Oklahoma and this was starting to look a LOT more familiar.

From Route 66


From Route 66

Crossing into Texas, I had a strange mix of emotions:
  • Relief, because I was at least back in Texas and the trip was going to be ok. I figure, if 40 oz had made it this far (and it had done beautifully, averaging 24 mpg, a/c flawless, water temp gauge straight in the middle of "normal", transmission shifting smoothly, top operating flawlessly), it would get me home.
  • Sadness, because the trip was more than 50% over.
  • Strangeness, because while I was in Texas, all right, I was in the PANHANDLE, with which I have limited experience. My part of Texas is the Dallas/Houston/San Antonio triangle, with Corpus Christi, the Hill Country, and East Texas thrown in. This might be Texas, but it was a long way from anything with which I was familiar.
  • And, finally, Gladness because suddenly, instead of Native Americans and fat white people, there was the more familiar mix of white, black, and hispanic. I stopped at Whataburger (good ol Whataburger!!!! Not Denny's!!!) and the young lady who waited on me was black. Her manager (about 5 minutes older than her) was hispanic. The gal working the window was white. Ahhhh, home at last!
Left Amarillo by sunset (not morning) and headed for Oklahoma City, top down. Thunderheads were brewing (until then the weather was flawless), lighting all up in the 40,000 foot clouds. It never rained on me. I was flying along with the top down, and truly, up there in the clean panhandle air, with no city lights and about 12% humidity, THE STARS AT NIGHT ARE BIG AND BRIGHT, DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS. Millions of stars, the big thunderheads in the background, with lightning. It was breathtaking.

Stopped at a rest area in Texas, near the Oklahoma border. Styled up in my convertible (darkness helped 40 oz's looks a great deal). There was an African-American family in their minivan, top piled with luggage, who stopped at the same time I did. The Dad looked longingly at 40 oz, and said, "Man, I sure do like your car." I thanked him and we got into a conversation (as often happens with me). The family was from CORONA, CALIFORNIA (from whence I had just come). They were headed for PINE BLUFF, ARKANSAS (45 miles from Malvern, where I was going). We laughed about the coincidence, I let his 8 year old son sit behind the wheel with the top down pretending to drive (I remember doing that as an 8 year old), and we were all on our way.

Once I arrived in Oklahoma City, in my mind I was "home". I had spent a LOT of time in the City; knew it well; had stayed in the same mom-and-pop hotel for years and years.

Got up the next morning and drove the 6 hours home to Malvern, top down all the way.

So, that was my Great Middle-Aged Adventure, featuring completely unplanned, spur-of-the-moment, off-the-cuff trips, convertibles, glacial martinis, Palm Springs, Route 66, deserts, moutains, Indians, new friends, and all the associated memories. It was one of the great adventures of my life. 40 oz and I have parted company; I have a newer convertible now, but I'll never forget her.

It was the cheapest $3,500 I ever spent.

From Route 66

(If you want to see ALL the pictures, they're HERE).

If you ever
plan to motor west,
travel my way, take the highway that's the best!
Get your kicks on Route 66!
Now you go through St. Looie,
Joplin, Missouri; Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty!
You'll see
Gallup, New Mexico!
Flagstaff, Arizona, (don't forget Winona!) Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino!
If you'll give into this timely tip,
when you make that California trip---
Get your kicks on Route 66!
Get your kicks on Route 66!
Get your kicks....on Route 66!!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Stupid dogs! ;-)

Ok, enough doom and gloom.

I love dogs. I can't imagine life without a dog. I went years without one, but after I got Sam (my Toy Fox Terrier), from that point forward I've had one.

I had Sam 17 years; he was a great dog and a good companion.

After Sam, I thought I'd try it without a dog for a while, but then my cousin Cathy spammed everybody.

Cathy spent her life in New York, then Georgetown (the one in DC, not the one in Austin). Bobby convinced her to move to his hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas. She was reluctant until she saw what their Georgetown townhouse money would buy in Fayetteville (now she's got her whole family moved to Arkansas...).

She was learning to ride the 4-wheeler and saw what looked like a sea serpent coming at her across the grass. It turned up to be a bunch of puppies, with their mama in tow. Cathy wanted to keep them all, but there were 8 of them and she already had 2 dogs; Bobby just said "no".

So she spammed all of us, everybody in her address book. She said, "you guys are going to have to come get these dogs." So, that's how I got Lucy.

I was corresponding online on the HawgsIllustrated message board, when a guy who rarely posted popped in and asked if we knew anybody who wanted a female border collie puppy. So that's how I got Ethel.

Nathan looked online on Petfinder and came up with Maggie the Golden Retriever. (Maggie went from "Maggie Pooch" to "Snaggie Snootch" to "The Snootch").

We rescued Coco (Cohiba, which became "CoCo", which became "Coco Puff" which became "The Puff" which became "The Poof" which became "Le Pouf") the black lab 12 hours before he was to be euthanized. He's a very sweet dog, very intelligent, very loving. We're fostering him till we can find him a "forever home."

So if anybody needs a sweet, smart, beautiful black lab, about a year old, let me know. 4 dogs are a bit much.

The stupid dogs have a lot of fun. They have yappy friends behind us with whom they love to run up and down the fence and bark. They have friends next door. They get to go on walks. Everybody in this neighborhood is in violation of the deed restrictions, which say no more than 2 animals. Everybody here has at least 2, several have many more. City of Houston says you can have 5.

Everybody in the neighborhood walks their dogs. I do, too. There is much sniffing and running around, but it's good exercise.

Maggie the Snootch has determined that the (old, sick) elm tree in the back yard needs to be excavated. She apparently is digging to China. I'll get out there at some point and take pictures. I don't really care; there's no grass because there's too much shade. The elm has to go, it's old and sick and is too close to the house anyway. I can take it down and maybe grow some grass. So dig on, Snootch.

It is fun to watch them sort out the pecking order. CoCo is at the top of the heap, but he can get in trouble with the Queen Bee, Her Most Imperial Majesty Lucy. She was the head knocker until CoCo said, "Hey, I'm bigger than you!"

In any event, here is the herd. Anybody want a black lab?

Found it

I found my little plaque that says, "Keep looking up".

I lived in Malvern 15 years, and accumulated a LOT of crap. Mother and Dad lived in their house 35 years I have a lot of their stuff here too.

Time to get rid of more stuff. Yup. Needs to go.

In any event, the plaque is very sentimental. It hung on Granny Jones's kitchen wall for my whole life, and quite a bit before that.

My Dad was the baby of the family. He had two older sisters and an older brother. They were little kids, it was the Depression (the first one, we're in the second one), and they had NO cash.

They went to the dimestore and bought this little plaque for their mother for Christmas.

It hung in the same place till Dad rebuilt the kitchen in Malvern, then it came to me. I have cherished it ever since.

I thought I had lost it, was despairing, but I finally found it, hidden right where I hid it.

In any event, here it is, its message as timely now as it was when they gave it to her:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Tough times---KEEP LOOKING UP!

Well, from the frying pan to the fire...I suppose it is the time of life through which I'm traveling.

First, Mother is the same, just a slow, steady decline.

Second, day before yesterday, Aunt Joy's husband, Jim Morgan, was admitted to the hospital in San Antonio with kidney issues. Aunt Joy reads my blog, so sweetie, know that I am praying for Jim's swift recovery.

Third, while I knew this was going on, I thought we had it licked. Apparently we did not.

During your life, you have different people who are big influences on who you are as an adult, both within your family and outside your family.

One of my big influences (and my friend Robert's, and all of us, really, from San Antonio) was Leroy Yarbrough (that's "Luh ROY", not "Lee Roy") and his lovely wife, Edwyna (Edy).

Leroy was Minister of Music at Trinity Baptist Church in San Antonio. We had a huge youth program there, and most of us were in the youth choir, the Mainstream. We were 125-150 strong. We made some big trips, but the biggest of all was the "Grand Tour"---Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Austria. It was wonderful, both the trip and the time.

Leroy embodied the phrase, "Southern Christian Gentleman". He wasn't a prude, he wasn't a religionista, but you always knew where he stood. He talked the talk and walked the walk.

He had fabulous taste in music; I learned everything I know about music from the base he gave me. He was a total perfectionist who would NEVER accept anything less than your absolute best. If your best was a little sharp or a little flat, he wouldn't complain, but if he knew you could do better, he DEMANDED it.

That's why his choirs won every award in the book, were invited to sing all over the place, and were a huge influence on many, many lives.

Now, just because he was a strict choirmaster doesn't mean that he was dour, or scary, or mean. Leroy was/is a riot to be around; he's funny, witty, and sharp; "more fun than a barrel of monkeys" is the phrase that comes to mind. When it comes to thinking up fun things to do, Leroy is one of the people you'd want to call.

Last February, Leroy wasn't feeling well and went to the doctor. He was diagnosed with lymphoma (he never smoked) and it was being aggressively treated.

So far as I knew, his treatment was progressing well and we had some remission going, but apparently that is not the case. Over Thanksgiving, he was transported here to Houston to M. D. Anderson, where he remains in Intensive Care, fighting for his life. I found out tonight and was going to rush over there, but he can't have any visitors and I'm sure Edy and the family (they had two lovely daughters, now middle aged like me, who married well and have sweet kids) are just worn out.

That's a trifecta right there, Mother, Jim, and Leroy. We have hopes for all of them, but it's not looking good for Mother and Leroy.

Keep Looking Up! I had that poster sometime, somewhere but no longer have it.

In any event, I'd ask anyone reading this to pray for my friends.

Most people, when asked, will say their favourite Psalm is the 23rd. I like that one fine, but it's not my favourite. My favourite is Psalm 121 (especially in Anglican Chant). <<(if you want to know what I think of when I think "church", click the link. Now THAT's CHURCH!)(It's St. Paul's London, which I had the great privilege to visit back in 2006).

Psalm 121

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth.

He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.

The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

Friday, December 5, 2008


Don't you just HATE it when you get a song stuck in your head?

Yesterday it was "Obla-di, Obla-da, life goes on..."

Today's is worse, far, far worse.

I'm told the best way of getting rid of a song stuck in your head is to give it to someone else, so here you go:

Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose!
And if you ever saw it,
You would even say it glows!

All of the other reindeer
used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
join in any Reindeer games!

Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
"Rudolph with your nose so bright,
won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"

Then how the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
"Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer,
you'll go down in history!"

(Rather shallow of them, don't you think? They didn't like him until Santa said HE liked him, then they were all over him. Syncophants, the lot of them.).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Random observations

None of which really rate their own entry:

1. Book Review: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. If you've not read this one, I thought it was mesmerizing. The author (first book) was able to describe so vividly the scenes, the emotions, and the action that I feel I was actually there. I'm pretty snooty about "real" books (I can read cheap hack stuff and enjoy it, but when looking at a "major" book, I'm very critical) and I found almost nothing about which to complain. It's not a happy smiley feel-good type of book, so if you're looking for warm fuzzies, this ain't it. I'd actually characterize it as "literature".

2. Movie Review: Australia. It's like the filmmaker decided to combine Gone With the Wind, Giant, Pearl Harbor, and the Thorn Birds into one movie---and it's about as long as if he just spliced them together. Let's see, we have a brave young woman of privilege, thrust into the wild environment of the Australian Outback, fighting valiantly to save her station (plantation in Australian...); she's saved by the handsome rogue, who winds up cleaning up nicely (all GWTW); there's an isolated station in a grand setting, with wealth, and people hostile to the young heroine (Giant); the handsome rogue is conflicted (Giant, Thorn Birds); there's cattle droving, love under the stars, death and destruction, and an entire subplot about the aborigines and their world---then the Japs attack and bomb the place (Pearl Harbor).

All in all, it's a decent expenditure of $9.50, but be aware that you are going to have to sit through 3 hours of movie, so watch the consumption of "Giant" sized cokes.


I know I have the wrong attitude, but re: "Episcopal Split as Conservatives form New Group"...well, buh-bye. Enjoy your trip into oblivion.

I grew up Baptist; the Baptists have splintered so many times there are literally thousands of Baptist traditions now. Splintering off is not going to get you anything but oblivion. One of the strengths of the Episcopal church has been hanging together in the face of disagreements. If they want to leave, well, buh-bye.

Oh, one more thing: you know all those great church buildings and property, some of which are in really expensive downtown areas, some of which have tremendous improvements (million dollar pipe organs and the like)? Um, they belong lock, stock, and barrel to the Episcopal Church, NOT to the individual congregations. (Before you start trying to elicit sympathy from others ("They took our church away from us!") remember how you PAID for it in the first place---you DIDN'T, Church Finance Corp did.

"But we made improvements". Real Estate law in every state indicates that improvements permanently installed go with the property and become the property of the owner (not the person who paid for the installation).

So be sure and give us the keys on your way out the door to wherever it is you're going to meet next week. We'll have priests in place and new congregations grown where you left. Oh, and the name stays with the Episcopal Church, too. So, if you were, say, St. Peter's Episcopal Church, you don't have the right to that name. You can be St. Peter's something-or-other church, but the original name is a property right.

Have fun in your new life, and don't forget to turn the lights out on your way out the door. We'll get the electricity changed into our name.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


It's a funny thing about friends. You don't realize how hard it is to make new ones until you are forced to do so.

I was really fortunate in Arkansas to have many excellent friends. Many were Razorback buddies, some were friends I'd known for years. Some have gone by the wayside; others are "keepers" that I believe I'll have, in one way or the other, for life.

I have begun to realize that I'm going to have to get out and make new friends.

Nathan is a wonderful young man, and an excellent friend and roommate, but he's 25 and full of life and is out making new friends and forging a new life for himself. I'm really proud to have been able to watch his growth and development into the fine young man he now is; I'm really pleased he's shared this part of his life with me. I'm enjoying the hell out of having him as a roommate (he keeps me young), but one of these days he's going to find some sweet young thing and off he will be on a new life adventure (this is the way of things, and is as it should be).

My friends are scattered to the four winds. Robert's in Dallas, Keith's in Dallas, Gage is in Austin, Marty's in Oklahoma, Jeff's in Little Rock, Steve's in Little Rock, John's in San Diego, Craig's in San Francisco, Patti Tang's in NYC, Kathy and Larry are in Birmingham. My sister's in Boerne.

Of course, I have Jimmy and Nancy here; they have a baby who is sweet and wonderful, but takes all their available spare time. I am remiss, though, in not making more of an effort to go meet them for dinner, at least.

For years, I relied upon my parents as friends, too. Living next door to them in Malvern, it was fun to have them as adult friends, and we did things like the boat and the Florida trips (and some Razorbacking) together. Now Mother's in the nursing home and my 85 year old Dad is caring for her.

So, at 51, I'm going to strike out in some new directions. I'll always have my old friends, and will always love them. I'll be glad every time I see their names on caller ID, and I'll call them too. It's just that sometimes, I'd like to have somebody with whom to go to a movie, have a beer or three, or just plain hang out. Lucy and Ethel are sweet doggies but the lack of opposable thumbs makes it difficult for them to hold a beer.

I do have one set of friends here; one of my friends from Minneapolis lives here, married a Texan, and is comfortably settled in the Houston Heights, so there's a start.

I've been a parishioner at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church for a year, but have only made one or two acquaintances because I'm gone all the time on weekends. I'm going to re-arrange around that so I can try to go.

It's hard at 51; everybody's already got their lives going and everybody's already got their circle of friends.

But, as that old Joe Cocker song (which I hated at the time) goes, in part:

Who knows what tomorrow brings
In a world few hearts survive?
All I know is the way I feel.
When it's real, I keep it alive.
The road is long, there are mountains in our way,
But we climb a step every day.

Some hang on to "used to be,"
Live their lives looking behind.
All we have is here and now,
All our life, out there to find.
The road is long, there are mountains in our way,
But we climb a step every day

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving was really strange this year

It was just plain strange to have Thanksgiving dinner without Mother.

Dad, Lucy, Ethel, and I drove out to my sister's house in Boerne, where she had fixed a terrific dinner (I contributed mashed cauliflower and steamed asparagus spears with butter). We had cocktails, then dinner, then Cowboys.

My sister has two horses, Dottie and Roper; they were a bit skittish with me until I produced the Mrs. Pasture's Horse Cookies (I kid you not, it's horse treats just like dog treats! Who knew?). As soon as I made with the Horse Cookies, man, was I ever popular. They were literally eating out of my hand, then nuzzling me looking for more. I constantly tease Marla that they are really just very large dogs. (That's Dottie on the left, Roper on the right, btw).

Then Dad and I drove back to his assisted living apartment, after stopping off to visit Mother. Let's just say that she has good days and bad days, and today was a very bad day.


Now, Thanksgiving dinner at our house has NEVER been about turkey. The flat out truth is, none of us really care that much for it. I'll eat it, but I'll take chicken or beef or pork any day. The "traditional" Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners have rarely, if ever, been served at our house.

Growing up, our Thanksgiving dinner was pretty much what we had today: beef brisket, veggies, apple pie. (I'm the only one in my entire family that loves pumpkin pie; the others actively loathe it. The only way I ever get pumpkin pie is at a restaurant.).

Sometimes we'd have roast beef, sometimes a pot roast, sometimes even meatloaf (nobody did meatloaf like my mother; I've got her recipe and she showed me how, and I can make a -barely- passable imitation, but it's certainly not "hers". I loved hers and tolerate most others).

Oddly, the main "Holiday" ingredient we actually WOULD have is cranberry sauce, homemade. Mother loved cranberry anything, so we had a lot of cranberry sauce---out of a can if she didn't have time, homemade if she did. She was very good at making it herself, too. And, of course, if you're going to all that trouble, why not top it with whipped cream?

Thanksgiving afternoon has always always always been about watching the Dallas Cowboys, America's Team (all others really are inferior...). We're all Cowboys fans; I grew up watching Dandy Don Meredith and Bob Lilly; the Doomsday Defense and then the battle between Craig Morton and Roger "the Dodger" Staubach; suffered through Danny White and others, was exhilerated during the divine Aikman era, have been once again through the Valley of the Shadow to our current Romo-led 'boys. I like the current team. I like Jerry Jones and what he's done (sue me, all of you go ahead, I don't care). I even like T.O. I dislike Texas Stadium, always have, and will not be sorry to see it go. Arlington, here we come!

Anyway, Dad and my sister and her husband and son and I, we all love the Cowboys. Mother, not so much. She was a Denver Broncos fan. I was never sure, but I think she thought John Elway was "cute". In any event, the Broncos don't play on Thanksgiving, and the Cowboys do.

So basically that was our old traditional Thanksgiving, one more time: Family and brisket and cocktails and dogs and horses and Cowboys. But no cranberry sauce. No whipped cream. An empty place at the table.

Familiar, similar, but oh, so different.


But surely, you say, we have turkey at Christmas, right? No. Christmas dinner is Swiss Steak. Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it....


Uncle Malvie says, you couldn't pay me enough to go shopping tomorrow. I don't care how cheap everything is, it's going to be cheaper after Christmas. I plan to steer clear of any shopping areas.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some things just never change

I loves me some football...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Let's hear it for newfound relatives!

My cousin Lance contacted me as a result of this blog!

Lance and I are second cousins, once removed (I love it that I know how to do that). We've been emailing and I decided to post my part on the blog. I think there are exactly 3 people who read it (Lance makes 4), so it's mostly for my entertainment anway.

My Grandmother, Audie Virginia Brown Tarkington Forthmon, had a pretty amazing story. It sounds like a movie (maybe a bad one).

Here goes:

Grannie's father, John, killed himself because of depression and drug use. Her mother, Alice, died in a typhoid epidemic, leaving John alone with all those kids. Polly's escapades (unwed pregnancy) didn't help, nor did Arnet's (same deal), but he died of a broken heart. He was a Laudanum addict. He told the children to stay in the house one day (no idea where Polly and Arnet, adults at the time, were), went out back and shot himself.

Uncle Albert just attached John's (adjoining) farm to his own. He never filed any deed work with the County, and no will was ever probated for John. Accordingly, to this day there is a cloud on the title of the land. I have heard that there were people who wanted to do a class action suit to regain the land or (more likely) extract some kind of settlement from the current owners, but I don't know what ever came of it. It's not their fault (although they bought land without a clear title!); it is the fault of Uncle Albert. In every family story I've heard, Albert is the villain. He took the kids in, but unwillingly. He sent his own children to the one room schoolhouse while making OUR crowd work in the fields. He, of course, was a good Baptist (I have many things to say about the Baptist church, having been raised in it; none of these things are complimentary...).

When Polly turned up preggers AGAIN, by the same MARRIED man, he put her on the road. He threw Audie (Grannie) into the mix, because she was too young to work productively and was another mouth to feed. Grannie was emotionally scarred for life from this treatment. We have her life story in her own hand (need to scan that too). She was unable to write it in first person, preferring instead to write it as the story of a little girl, Virginia. She hated the name Audie and I think always would have preferred "Virginia".

When Polly got to Buffalo with the kids, I don't exactly know where she went. I know that she placed Grannie with a local Judge and his wife, who were childless and raised her. When she was 15, she was at a barn dance and the fiddler was a young man from LittleLot, Roy Tarkington. Roy had, um, a voracious sexual appetite (which he retained apparently till he died) and swept the young "Virginia" off her feet, as it were. They were married in Centerville. Mother and I actually travelled to the Centerville courthouse and were sent down in the basement to look for the marriage record. It literally was like a scene out of a movie, dusty old books strewn everywhere, cobwebs, brick walls and little windows up at the ceiling, the works. We found the book with Grannie and Grandaddy's signatures on the marriage license, took it back upstairs and made a photocopy. It's a good thing, because the courthouse subsequently burned and that book burned with it.

Grannie moved to LittleLot with Roy, but his frequent girlfriends made life difficult. Roy's sister Elsie and her husband, Jim, went with a friend to Arkansas because they heard there was work there in the rice fields; everybody in LittleLot was basically starving. Elsie wired back to LittleLot that there was, in fact, plenty of work in Arkansas and that the whole clan should come on. Roy and Audie decided to make the trip. They took a buckboard to Nashville (I don't know why; they could have gotten the train in Dickson or Waverley) but that's what they did. Attached is a copy of a picture of Grannie in Centennial Park in Nashville (the trees are still there) on that trip. She made the dress herself. She was 16, and had already had a baby (my Aunt Paulie, or "Polly" as we called her).

So they moved to Arkansas and had 3 more children (Roy would visit long enough to leave her pregnant, then take off with this woman or that). At the end, they were living in Prescott, Arkansas. Roy told the family they needed to go see his brother Laurence, so they drove to Malvern (my hometown) and had Sunday dinner with Uncle Laurence and Aunt Lillie (I met them when I was a child and they were very old). After dinner, Roy told them he "had business downtown" and left. He never returned; they found the car deserted at the depot; he had ridden the train back to Prescott and run off with Judge Callicott's daughter, with whom he actually lived the rest of his life. None of us think they ever married, although they used his last name. He was a mean old man when I knew him and I have several stories about that too.

After it became apparent that Granddaddy was not coming back, Grannie divorced him (I just found the divorce decree the other day, going through all this stuff from Mother's). She had no job, no money, no home, no education, and had been abandoned again, with 4 kids: Pauline, age 16; Fred, age 13; Horace, age 8; and Martha, age 2. She had no choice but to appeal to relatives for help. Pauline stayed with Uncle Laurence and Aunt Lillie in Malvern; they ran a boarding house. Fred and Horace were sent to Stuttgart to live with Aunt Elsie Oliver (I dearly loved Aunt Elsie, she was a complete scream even into her 90's). Grannie kept Mother with her. She moved to Little Rock to get work. She scrubbed floors at the Worthen National Bank (largest bank in Arkansas till the 1990's) at night and took in laundry by day. They starved. She went back to Malvern and found work as a domestic for some wealthy people who could still afford a maid in the depression.

It was at this point that Jim Forthmon came to the door selling Fuller Brushes (I'm not making this up). They married. Jim couldn't make a go of Fuller Brushes during the Depression and they did all sorts of things trying to get by. Jim built them a homemade trailer and they went all over the midwest, selling gun racks and curio shelves they made. (There are many lurid stories about this period. Two quick ones: they had no food and no money, and Mother had a pet chicken. Fried chicken was on the table and Mother was never able to eat chicken again, literally to this day. Another time, Grandaddy tracked them down and swiped Mother. No idea why he and Ethel wanted her; he never wanted children---but anyway, they kidnapped her and there was a chase scene right out of Bonnie and Clyde, with Jim shooting at the car and Granddaddy shooting back. Mother remembers it, or she did until this last stroke.

They wound up back in Malvern with Jim selling something or other. Mother hated him. She was 16 and working at "The Bright Spot", a local ice cream store. She went out on a date with Houston Jones, local bad-boy-from-good-family, because she loved to dance the jitterbug. They were at a local roadhouse; Houston was drunk and disorderly as usual. My dad, Houston's brother, was sitting in the corner with his buds. "Who's the cutie with my shithead brother?" is the exact quote. "Martha Tarkington". He went over, said, "Miss Tarkington, I see that my brother is making an ass of himself, can I drive you home?" She said, "Sure", hopped on the back of his Harley, and he took her home.

Two weeks later, on Valentine's Day, they got Dad's best friend to break into his father (County Clerk)'s office, forge a marraige license, went out to a country baptist preacher, got married, came back, walked into his folks house at 2:00 am, flipped on the light and announced their marraige. My grandparents Jones were the President of the Bank and Local Dragonlady, respectively (she was Pres of Garden Club, Sunday School, Ladies' Missionary Society, etc). They screamed.

Mother ran out to the getaway car and told the friends to take her home. Little did she realize the trouble she herself was in, until they turned the corner and every light in the house was on. She tried to sneak in but was caught. Mayhem ensued.

Next morning, Dad came to get her on his Harley. Jim met him on the front door with a shotgun, but Mother walked past him with her suitcase and they left. If Mother lives till Valentine's Day (doubtful but possible), it will have been 67 years.

Meanwhile, two more things happened to Grannie.

About a year after Mother and Dad got married, Jim was on his way back from a sales call in the middle of the night; he was sleepy. Larry Fitzhugh, distant relative of my Dad's, was driving a load of steel pipe in the same direction, north on US 67 south of Malvern. Larry went to sleep and just stopped in the middle of the road. No lights. Jim hit the back of that load of steel doing around 80 mph; they found the V8 engine of Jim's Ford in the trunk.

Grannie went to live with Uncle Laurence and Aunt Lillie, working as a maid again.

She developed a sty on her eye. These are painful, so she finally had to go to the doctor. Drunk old Dr. Barrier (only one who would treat her on credit) was going to wash it out with saline; instead washed it out with SULPHURIC ACID. So Grannie was blind in her right eye from 1942 till she died. She wore a patch for years, then finally they came up with a prosthesis she could comfortably wear. She never drove again.

World War II occurred. She and Mother lived together in Little Rock, mother working at the bomb factory (!), Grannie working as a laundress at University Hospital. Mother became pregnant on one of Dad's leaves, so they had an infant to care for as well. My sister became ill, finally dying of hydrocephalus at age 3, while Grannie was living with Mother. Dad barely made it home in time to see her. Dad and Mother were devastated, and moved to Dallas to escape the memories.

Grannie moved in with Pauline and her husband Robert. They had 3 kids. She lived with them, taking care of the kids while they worked.

In 1956, the oldest daughter, Neda, was having a torrid romance with an undesireable sort named Jimmy (he really was a creep, her parents were right about him, as she later found out). Neda and Pauline got into a knock-down drag-out fight over it, Grannie taking Neda's side. The result was Pauline throwing both of them out of the house. They walked with their suitcases to the train station and placed a collect call to my Mother, asking her to wire them tickets to Dallas. Mother was having a difficult pregnancy (I always was a problem child...) and Grannie was glad to help. She and Neda lived with Mother and Dad in Dallas until Neda, against all advice, married Jimmy and moved out.

Grannie lived with us the rest of her life. She never owned a home. She was thrown out (through no fault of hers) by her own uncle, deserted by her first husband, widowed by her second; blinded; thrown out by her own daughter, and finally taken care of for the last 26 years of her life. She died the day after Christmas, 1983, during a blinding snowstorm, at age 88. We had to delay the funeral 3 days so they could get the digger up into the cemetery. She's buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery, Malvern, next to Jim Forthmon. She really didn't want to be there, but those were the plots she owned.

I have her Bible, her Parker pen, and her alarm clock. My sister has her rocking chair. Those were the only possessions she owned.

She was a very sweet person, loving and giving. She held no animosity toward those who wronged her. She could sit at table and eat with Roy and Ethel Tarkington with us (Mother wanting to see her Daddy), and be civil and swap recipes with Ethel (I'd have murdered them both). She and Pauline were very close in later years, writing each other letters every day. I wish I had her loving kindness, but I'm afraid I inherited a pretty solid dose of Tarkington.

My first scan attempts

...leave a LOT to be desired. They are either very dark or you see a LOT of artifact (little flecks on the screen). I'm not sure if that's dust, or problems with the processing, or the fact that these things are over 50 years old. Anyway, here we go, fresh from 1959:

Grannie, dressed for church. Audie Virginia Brown Tarkington Forthmon. She was 63 years old here. She always wore tinted glasses, for a reason about which I will likely blog soon.

Dad and I on his Vespa (50 mpg @ $0.25 per gallon). He was 36, I was 2. He loved taking me on the scooter and I loved going on the scooter. No helmets, no seat belts, no kidding. I'd stand right in front of him and away we'd go (I actually remember this, aside from the pictures).

Mother and I on the scooter. She was 33. This has to be one of the ONLY times she EVER deigned to get on the scooter, she hated it.

Tired camper. If you look between me and Mother, you can see Tinkerbelle the dog. Tinker loved me, right up till I pulled her tail and her ears, etc. Thereafter she never liked me much.

For Lance

I'm really very excited; on one of the posts below, I heard from one of my relatives (whom I have never met). Obviously he must have some interest in the family, because he named Mother and Grannie by their real names.

Lance, here is the only picture I could IMMEDIATELY get my hands on. I moved to Houston about a year ago, but it's been a very busy year and all the photos, etc are packed up in boxes. There are tons, and I can go through them and find more.

Back in 1979, when I graduated from Baylor and hadn't started work yet, Mother decided she would take Grannie back to Tennessee to see what was left of her family. I didn't have anything to do so I was the designated driver. We left Tulsa (where they lived then) and headed out, stopping in Malvern, Arkansas to pick up Mother's Sister, my Aunt Paulie (prounounced "Polly"). We knew of one lady in Waverley, Tennessee, named Mamie, and called her asking if we could come meet them. Well good grief, they insisted we stay with them.

We drove up in their front yard and they started boiling out of the house; they had come from miles around to meet "Aunt Audie".

I should say that we all have a strong family resemblance. Mother, Aunt Paulie, and Uncle Horace looked like triplets. When you line all the male descendants of my generation---Jim, Glenn, Jeff, and I---you can absolutely tell we're related. We look just like Mother, Aunt Paulie, and Uncle Horace, who all looked just like their mother.

Imagine our surprise (because we really hadn't thought about it) when these people all started boiling out of that house---and they looked just like US! (or we looked like them....).

Anyway, this photo was framed in my den; I took it out and scanned it. I am pretty sure the year is 1974 (my lapels on that BURGANDY polyester coat stretched to the shoulder seam; how about that BOW TIE! What you can't see *thank GOD* is the pair of burgandy and white, houndstooth, bell-bottom polyester pants and stack-heeled patent leather shoes I was wearing with it. Marla had to IRON her hair to achieve that effect; Mother's and Grannie's has already been discussed in an earlier post. Dad's tie is as wide as a dinner napkin.

Let's see, 1974, we lived in Windcrest in San Antonio. Dad was 51 (my age now, yikes!), Mother was 48, I was 17, Marla was 12, and Grannie was 78. Grannie loved this picture; there was another one of just her. I have all of them, somewhere in these boxes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pass the coffee, please

Everything's ok as long as they keep making Community Coffee, dark roast, whole bean, and I have a burr grinder to grind it with, a fabulous brew machine to brew it in, and heavy cream and splenda (now) to make it just right. Makes getting up in the mornings worth it.

My first taste of Community was at Mardi Gras, 1987; I stayed with friends who hosted us in grand Louisiana tradition. (Jimmy, never a good driver, met us at the airport with a cocktail in a crystal highboy glass in his hand. He weaved us out of the airport and we were concerned about getting caught. "Aw, hell, this is N'Orluns", he slurred as he pulled into a drive-thru daquiri bar. I wondered aloud if they had Wild Turkey; the waitress heard me and asked, "Small or Large?" "Um, Large please!")

Naturally, we all stayed up all night in the quarter; got about 3 hours of sleep. Next morning, the Lady of the house served up a SEVEN COURSE BREAKFAST (she had "help"), and Community Dark Roast with sugar and cream in porcelain cups. One cup is all it took. I've been drinking it ever since. They don't have it in San Antonio, and I have to take my sister "care packages" from Houston.

This coffee should come with a warning: once you've had it, nothing else is good enough.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Big jobs require Big tools

I may have alluded to this before, but I've been appointed (self-appointed and by unanimous consent of all concerned) to be the custodian of the family history.

This includes Dad's slides.

All my life, photography and picture taking has been a big part. My Dad, an inveterate photographer, always had some kind of camera. Since Dad was mostly broke, and unlike his son was credit-card-averse, his cameras for years consisted of the highly reliable, cheap, surprisingly good Kodak Brownie. He had 3: a black one, a blue one, and a green one. He took pictures of everything that came within his view; mostly his family, on which he doted.

In 1966, he "upgraded" to an Instamatic 404, which he used until he got his first SLR, a Canon A-1. He kept taking pictures until his hands got too shaky to hold the camera still.

I inherited the photography bug from him; was always fascinated; always begged him as a child to let me take a picture (he passed the old black Brownie on to me when he got the new blue one, though he wouldn't waste money on film for my photographic efforts at age 6...).

Dad got the first Brownie because he and his wife had a new house, a new puppy, a new car, and a new baby on the way. He figured he'd better get a camera, and since paying for all that wasn't cheap, he opted for the Brownie.

He took slides because (a) the film was cheaper to buy and cheaper to process, (b) storage was less difficult (he also bought an Argus slide projector, a total beast, exceedingly temperamental, and only Dad understood it. Also, it would allow only Dad to operate it; it knew how we felt about its temperamental ways...), which took these big metal "magazines"---also hideous to operate, and I'm dreading trying to extricate those fragile slides from those nasty old metal magazines), and (c) "slide shows" were a real event around our house.

We'd get a new roll of film back from Kodak (because, of course, you had to send the roll of film off to Kodak for processing, they'd process, and send the box of slides back to you; took about a week or two, depending on how busy they were), Dad would load them into a magazine, we'd stretch a sheet across a window (or just take one of the pictures off the wall) and have a slide show; Mother would pop popcorn, we'd all get a Coke or Dr Pepper, and on with the show.

When we broke up Mother and Dad's household, along with boxes and boxes of family history/genealogical research, I inherited boxes and boxes of slides. The slides are all of my baby pictures, my sisters, my first trike, my first bike, all our dogs, Christmases 1957 through around 1980, all the loved relatives now gone, Dad's trip to the Holy Land, my "Grand Tour" of Europe (he let me take the 404!), my first car, my sister as a pep squadder, my sister as a baby wanting to ride a horse (how unusual... ;-). I smile and wink because she lives on acreage in Boerne, TX and has horses---which are pets, very large pets who eat a lot and make very large poops and occasionally consent for her to ride on them.

In any event, the old 50's slides are very, very fragile now. They are in complete disarray and disorganization. The good news is, Kodak always printed the date on the slide, so I know when they were taken; of course, I remember most of them so the "where" part isn't difficult.

My year-long project is going to be to scan and catalog those slides.

I would be SHOCKED (shocked!) if some of them didn't find their way here.

Meanwhile, to facilitate the job, I've bought:

A one-Terrabyte external hard drive
A new Toshiba laptop
A new Scanner (Consumer Reports indicates it's the best for scanning slides)

So, it's off I go a-scannin. I figure, it's something to do this winter when the days are long and somewhat rainy.

Now, to get all that technology ready to go...

One more thing: I've got a Nikon D50 (very nice) with a cheap but effective Promaster zoom lens (I want the Nikon Zoom-Nikkor Zoom lens - 18 mm - 200 mm - F/3.5-5.6 - Nikon F; as soon as any of you would like to contribute $800 or so to my cause, I'll have one...), and I like to flatter myself that I take some pretty good pictures. But you know, I'll bet Dad's were just as good or better, with vastly inferior equipment. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Potts Camp, Mississippi

I got text messages, as usual, from my friend Kathy Beaumont as she went through Potts Camp, Mississippi en route to and from her son Ben's wedding in Little Rock. Two text messages, one each way, advising me that she and LBeau had made it safely through Potts Camp. We all insist that each other do this now. There is a very good reason:

Potts Camp, Mississippi is de debbil.

My first encounter with Potts Camp occurred en route to my very first Arkansas/Auburn football game. I survived the trip without difficulty. I was "with" a whole group of people driving separately, and we were to rendezvous at the Beaumont Inn for Wayward WebHogs (BIFWW), which I must admit is Birmingham's premiere establishment for such purposes.

All of us arrived safely---except the Bawiecs. This was of moderate concern, because Dee (the attractive part of the couple) was preggers at the time, and as the hour grew later, our concern about the possibility of a very early delivery grew.

Finally, here they came in Rick's BMW Z3.

Remember the scene in "Back to the Future, Part III" in which Doc Brown puts huge 1950's tires on the DeLorean? (Gee, the internets is a wonderful thing; I found a PICTURE of it...).
Well, that Z3 looked like that---3 "normal" tires and one "whacko" tire. Seems they had had a blowout in Potts Camp, Mississippi and the local tire store didn't have anything that even remotely fit a Z3 (likely they didn't know what a BMW was...). So Rick had to buy this mismatched, wrong-sized tire to get him from scenic Potts Camp the 140 more miles or so to Birmingham, where they are, in fact, civilized and not only KNOW about German cars but actually MAKE them…

Fast forward to 2005; my friend J. R. and I had been to the BIFWW and attended Arkansas’ loss to the evil Tide, following our trip the week before to the Arkansas/Southern California debacle (so you see, the stage was already set for disaster).

America, especially the south, was still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Rita chose that weekend to strike the Texas/Louisiana coast. My sister, her husband, their children, dogs, horses, and friends, were involved in the Texodus, but that’s another blog entry (I think I’ll have her write that one up, she tells great stories about it).

Even though the hurricane was an entire state away, the bands were not. They swept ashore, raking the countryside with bouts of pounding rain---after which the sun would emerge---and then another band of pounding rain. It is the way of hurricanes.

So, J. R. and I were driving back in my (new at the time) Dodge Grand Caravan (Inferno Red), with the back end completely full of border collies---Frank, Lucy, Ethel, and Jack. I was driving, J. R. was piddling on his computer, and all was right with the world.

Until we reached Potts Camp, Mississippi.

We were between bands of Hurricane Rita; I had had to slow down drastically due to heavy rain, but the rain band ended and we emerged into the sunshine and –mostly- dry pavement. I promptly pushed the Warp Drive up to Warp 8.5 and rounded the bend and into the straightaway next to Potts Camp.

One minute, I was driving along; the next I was doing 360’s along the freeway; three complete ones, at 85 mph. I am a good driver, and was attempting to navigate out of the spin; J. R. did not help by grabbing my arm---he was afraid I would do something wrong, and former race car drivers don’t like it when anybody but them is behind the wheel anyway---but it didn’t do me any good.

When I finally came out of the spin, I was headed across the small grass median directly at the oncoming traffic. I succeeded in driving us into the median, where we literally plowed nose down into the soft muck. Suddenly, we were stopped and everything was very quiet. I turned the engine off, removed J. R.’s death grip from my arm, opened the door, got out, and had to hold onto the van due to weakness at the knees. J. R. was similarly afflicted. The dogs had the most interesting looks on their faces: “Um, excuse me, but what the hell just happened?”

While we were standing there, another car joined us in the ditch, missing us by about 10 feet. They were getting out when another car hit the same slick spot and went off the other side of the road.

So I called the auto club.

And here came a Mississippi State Trooper and a wrecker to tow us out.

The tow driver, from Potts Camp, looked it over, attached the tow cables to one of my tires, and pulled my van out that way. The suspension was never the same. He drawled, in his best Miss-uh-sipp-uh mushmouth: “Yeah, we sure have a lot of wrecks right here, ‘specially when it rains!” I didn’t ask him if he had paid the highway department to not fix the slight indentation (which caused cars to drop oil, which resulted in the invisible oil slick).

Our ship righted, and seemingly drivable, we got back on US 78 and headed on toward Little Rock. Less than a half mile down the road, we saw another Arkansas vehicle, an older Ford Explorer, with a couple of young guys trying to change the tire. I said, “Hey! That’s BEN BEAUMONT!”

The exit sign directly in front of their truck? Potts Camp >>>

Potts Camp, Mississippi is de debbil.