Monday, November 28, 2005

Rock 'em, Sock 'em Gospel Music

One of my current favorite CDs is a collection of gospel songs performed by Larry Gatlin and his brothers. It includes everything from Sweet Hour of Prayer to Do Lord. I defy you to listen to it without (a) singing along and (b) tapping your foot. That is, if you were raised Southern Baptist like I was.

I used to love request night at church. It was usually a Sunday evening service and members of the congregation would call out the songs they wanted to sing. Two verses would be sung of every request. I learned a lot of old-time gospel songs during request nights, as the older folks took the opportunity to request old favorites that had been put on the shelf by the choir director. If it were not for those request nights, I would have missed out on a lot of songs that instead became my favorites.

I got to thinking this morning while I was listening to Larry, Steve and Rudy about a time in the early 70s, when the Baptist church of Westhoff was invited to the black Baptist church for a joint fellowship. My father pastored two churches in those days; the First Baptist Church of Smiley, which followed normal worship times, and the First Baptist Church of Westhoff, which held its services an hour or two earlier. FBC Westhoff was a very small congregation of mostly older folks. My father usually provided the music for their services, playing piano and leading the singing simultaneously.

During revivals, however, I would be drafted to be the pianist for Westhoff. This caused some interesting opportunities from time to time. For instance, I can remember one revival that was scheduled the same week as finals. I lugged my school books along to church with me, did my thing on the piano, and then retired to the back pew and studied for the next day's test during the sermon. Nobody minded. They were pleased to have a musician on board for the week under whatever circumstances they could get one.

FBC Westhoff used to put on some of the best potlucks. They would make homemade ice cream out back. For a little congregation, we had more than enough food and would leave stuffed full of goodies.

(As a meandering thought as I write this, one night we were headed back home after one of those potluck suppers. As we neared Smiley, we became aware of a huge fire somewhere ahead of us, lighting up the night sky. The closer we got to home, the more aware we became that the fire was mighty close to our house. It turned out to be at the feed store just across and down the road from us. We were very anxious up to the time we turned onto our street. Some of us, namely me, stayed anxious until the fire was out. The history of the Smiley Volunteer Fire Department did not exactly inspire confidence. Another story for another time.)

But I digress. One evening the white folks of FBC Westhoff headed across town to attend a worship service at the black church. For piano-thumping, hand-clapping, joyous gospel music, that was the place to be. It was an eye-opening experience for me to see folks singing with such enthusiasm. Quite different from the sedate music I was used to hearing in church. I was having a grand time. Until...

In a polite gesture to include their guests in the service, someone got the bright idea that I should take a turn on the piano for the last song. No way did I want to put my pallid piano expertise up against the lady who had just pounded the heck out of that old upright. I pretty nearly had to be dragged to the piano, where I timidly plunked out the most boring few minutes of music you can imagine. Bless their hearts, they all dutifully reined in their enthusiam and sang like the staid white folks I was accustomed to providing music for. I'm sure I was the embodiment of a truly colored person for the duration. As in bright red.

Well, as the saying goes, "nobody will remember it in 30 years". It's been roughly 40 years since then and I sure hope nobody remembers. But I remember the utter joy as those folks sang their hearts out. Nothing can beat gospel music sung with joy and gusto. Amen!


Sunday, November 27, 2005

Everything Old Is New Again

Back in the late 60s, a trend surfaced for colored trees (other than green) and for aluminum pom-pom trees. It was cool to have an artificial tree. It was cooler if your artificial tree was obviously artificial by virtue of its color. We had the aluminum pom-pom version, with a color wheel that cast a rotating sheen of colored light bouncing off the silver strands. First green, followed by red, then yellow and finally blue. Each limb came in its own paper sleeve. There were more than 100 limbs to remove from protective sleeves and then pushed into holes in the central pole.

I was fond of that tree and it was usually my job to remove the limbs and hand them to Mother to fit into the pole. I was sorry to see it stay behind when we moved from Smiley. My parents decided to donate it for the church's use rather than move the bulky box to our new home.

The original tree, in the living room in Smiley

A couple of years back, I got to wishing I had one of those aluminum trees. I initially thought I would buy one from EBAY. That's before I learned that I wasn't the only one having nostalgic feelings for the things. Every time a vintage tree was posted that looked like the tree I remembered, the price would quickly escalate out of range.

Then last year I spotted a small aluminum tree at Hobby Lobby. Not a pom-pom tree, but it was silver and shiny and I wanted one. By the time I had made up my mind to get it, they were sold out.

So this year, when I saw them reappear, I grabbed one. It may not have the fluffy pom-poms and it may not be 6-1/2 feet tall, but it looks pretty good to me. I even found a color wheel light. So this year we are taking a trip back in time and having a silver Christmas.

The new tree

The tree and a few of the choice nativity sets from my collection are on display and, while I'm still having a hard time getting with the Christmas program, I'm enjoying sitting back and watching the fruits of today's labor. The two babies are completely mystified, but willing to sit and keep me company, wondering all the time what I'm up to.


Saturday, November 26, 2005

Memories Light the Corners of My Mind

I spent today in the company of my kinfolk. We always have a good time when we get together at Thanksgiving. We share a similar weird kind of humor. We've scared a few inlaws over the years with our sense of humor. We zing each other. We tell tacky stories over lunch that would squash the appetites of normal people. Not to brag, but we are all smart and well read and quick on the comeback. In short, you should be so lucky to have us for family. We keep you entertained from start to finish.

My uncle lives only a couple of miles past the place where my grandparents lived and farmed during my childhood. Driving out to his house takes me down roads that flood my mind with memories at every curve. I pass the sandy field where my grandfather planted peanuts and where one day I learned a valuable lesson. We stopped on the way to their house one day when we spied them in the fields. Daddy lifted me over the fence and set me down in a clump of bull nettle. While I screamed in pain and my aunt ran for the water jug, my grandfather dusted my feet with sand, which helped take away the sting until we could douse my feet with water. From then on I avoided anything that looked even remotely like bull nettle.

Back all those years ago, it seemed like my grandparents lived way, way out in the country. I believe it was about seven miles from downtown to their house. Most of the way was a narrow gravel road with several wooden plank bridges. One evening as we headed out to the house, we crossed one of those little bridges, and some loosened nails in the planks worked themselves into our tire. We also picked up the plank, so we didn't get very far off the bridge. There we were in the boonies, after dark, with a flat tire. As I recall, we weren't able to change the tire (probably the spare was as flat as the tire with the nails). Daddy had to walk back down the road and find help. For years afterward, I cringed each time we approached one of those little bridges.

The bridges are gone, and the road has been paved almost all the way to my uncle's house. The paving is a new improvement and I had mixed feelings as I made my way. I didn't miss the bone-rattling vibration of driving down the washboard road, but I missed the feeling of being in the real country. I was a little relieved to find that the pavement gave out just as I reached my destination and the road continued on in the single lane, sandy form that I remember.

Lee County Road 302

It was this same country road where I would walk with my aunt, discovering large patches of "grandma's cornbread" (muddy areas where the mud would crack in large square chunks). It was this same country road that we drove down to escape a tornado when I was about 3 years old. It was this same country road where I almost tripped over a slow moving armadillo.

The old house where my grandparents lived and the barn are long gone. The land never belonged to my grandparents. I learned today that they had once had the opportunity to purchase the place and had decided against it because the mineral rights would not transfer. Awhile back I made inquiries when the land came on the market and would seriously have considered moving there if someone had not beaten me to signing a contract of sale. That patch of land holds many fond memories of past Christmases, summer vacations, horseback rides, digging for doodlebugs in the old garage, walking down to the cow barns and getting a lesson in milking, cutting watermelons under the big tree on a hot summer day, sitting before a roaring fireplace on cold mornings, huge suppers of chicken-fried steak and "round fries", baths in a wash tub in the kitchen, feeding the chickens down at the barn, and many, many more. It was one of the important places of my childhood.

It's a funny feeling, these gatherings of kinfolk just up the road from that little patch of land. A part of me at 50+ years still feels like a youngster when I'm in that little corner of the world. But I'm older now than my parents were when we spent so much time there. I've crossed into the ranks of the family elders, albeit the younger edge of that group. And that stretch of road has witnessed every phase of my life. The buildings of my youth may be gone, but the land is still there, calling memories from musty, cobwebbed corners of my mind.

Brother David viewing the old homesite


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

No, He's Not Spoiled

The latest report from the Kingdom of Mojo has our hero somewhat befuddled by the change in the weather. The little boy was born at the end of April and until this morning did not realize that the world had any alternate temperature to hot. He was also put out with the wind blowing across his bow.

I played hooky from the office today and went to the outlet mall in San Marcos. When I returned home, I assumed the dogs would enjoy helping me bring in my packages. Xana and Coco pranced around the yard, enjoying the crisp, cool air. Mojo ran out to the middle of the yard, did a 180-degree turn and made a beeline for the warm house.

With the door standing wide open and his three gals in plain view, King Mojo proceeded to have a hissy fit. Standing well inside the door, he put on a howling demonstration that would have coyotes shouting "bravo!". I had to make three trips before I had everything in the house, and every time I left the house the howling re-commenced.

His Highness is scheduled for an overnight trip to the vet next week. I don't know who has the job of checking on the invalids through the night, but I sure hope they have earplugs. He has no hesitation at setting up a howl whenever he feels insulted or abandoned.

Of course, his Mommy may be doing some howling of her own. I'm not looking forward to the separation any more than he would if he had any idea what's coming.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

Playing Nurse

My little Coco is a born nurturer. This morning I let the dogs and the Taz cat out on the deck and a few minutes later I became aware of an air of excitement. Any time the dogs show an air of excitement, I feel compelled to check it out. There are snakes out here, for one thing. For another, I had to herd them away from a red wasp last weekend. He was stolling idly around on the deck, just daring somebody to come check him out. So I figured whatever it was, it was cause for investigation.

What I found was a bird on his side. I first thought it was a cat kill, so my first move was to keep the dogs from eating any of it. Then I realized he was still alive, breathing heavily and unable to move. I scooped up dogs and Taz and shoved them back into the house, pondering what I was going to do next.

He didn't seem to be physically hurt. No ruffled feathers or crippled wings. No blood. My guess was that he had flown into the patio door and had knocked himself out. So I decided to leave him alone and see what happened. I kept watch on him, in case a neighbor cat should come visiting, but otherwise kept my distance.

Coco was in a flurry of concern, wanting me to go with her to help the little guy. She stayed at the patio door, watching him, whining softly every so often. About a half hour later, he had righted himself, but was still sitting there with heaving chest. Another hour and his breathing was more normal, but he was fluffed up and his eyes were closed.

Coco made every trip to the window with me, checking on the patient. Looking at me and looking back, as if asking, "is he going to be ok?". Another hour and he was still sitting there, but opening his eyes wide and turning his head from side to side.

About two hours after the initial sighting, he tested his wings by flying from the deck to the railing, where he sat for another half-hour before flying away. The little sparrow must have had one heck of a hangover, but I'm sure a few more hours sitting in a nearby tree will probably bring him back to full health.

Nothing like good nursing. Her first trip outside afterwards, Coco investigated the area thoroughly and seemed satisfied to find him gone.

She would have been a great mommy. That's no longer possible, but she has a little brother, a big sister, a mommy and a grandmom she watches over faithfully.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Dressing Up/Dressing Down

It's a good thing I'm not as modest as I used to be.

To digress a little, I've turned over a new leaf on office dress. I finally got tired of my docker style pants and mens' shirts. Watching so much of How Not to Look and How Do I Look? has taken its toll. I started feeling very out of style, not to mention dumpy.

In my younger days, I was accused of being a clothes horse on more than one occasion. I went through a few years there when I bought designer labels and dressed chez Liz, Pierre, Perry, Ralph and Christian. I had a lot of business dinners and meetings and client presentations and I enjoyed dressing to fit the scene. As I gradually moved out of the public aspect of our business and into the crawling on the floor finding the ethernet plug aspect, it made more sense to dress in a more casual style that allowed freedom of movement. I wore a lot of Bill Blass jeans in those days. I had a collection of designer jeans in every color imaginable.

Then the edict came down from the top, "No more jeans!". I had to find an alternative that was still comfortable, but that looked nice. Hence my conversion to twill pants. That's been my style for several years and until recently I thought I looked fine. Now I feel dowdy.

To add insult to injury, menopausal hormone shifts led to mood swings that led to borderline binge eating and I packed on a little more weight than I normally carry around. I'm still working on getting that issue corrected, but the bottom line is that I was depressed about my weight and didn't care much about how I looked.

Suddenly the hormones are shifting again, I feel better, and I'm getting that itch to dress nicely once more. On Sunday afternoon I skipped off to Beall's and decided I was going to buy myself some new clothes and lie to myself about what size I was buying. (Everybody knows that they are making clothes to fit snug these days, so if a gal wants to be comfortable she has to buy a size larger to compensate. Right? )

I found out I can still shop well. I located dress pants with matching jackets that were marked down in preparation for the incoming cold weather clothes. I found some Levi's that actually fit me. (A miracle in itself. When will the jeans manufacturers realize that most of us women have hips?) I left with 3 pair of dress pants, 4 jackets and 2 pair of jeans. A good start to a new wardrobe.

So today I wore my first pair of the pants to work. I paired them with a blouse that had been hanging in my closet unworn because I didn't have a good pair of navy pants. I looked nice in the mirror. I felt a little like my old self and began making plans for another shopping foray in the near future.

Pride goeth before a fall. I spent the lunch hour at Tuesday Morning, looking for some non-clothes bargains. I had been there about 5 minutes when a button suddenly popped off my blouse. Of course I had no pins or sewing repair kit on hand. But I was careful and managed to finish my shopping without embarrassing myself. I intended to do something about it when I got back to work.

An hour later, the missing button completely forgotten, I was sitting in my office chatting with the director of operations. I turned to get something behind me and button number two zinged across the room and landed at his feet. One missing button you may be able to do without, but two missing buttons? He handed me the button, pretended he had seen nothing, and left me clasping my blouse closed with my left hand and rooting around my desk for something, anything, that would hold the gap closed. A good samaritan co-worker coughed up two safety pins, thankfully.

So my first attempt to dress in a more appropriate manner has disintegrated into a look somewhat akin to Jed Clampett. I have a row of safety pins down my front, a red-faced boss, and a sense of gratitude that I wore my nice bra today. Somehow I think the world would have been better off if I had worn dockers and a man's shirt.

(By the way, the blouse was not too small. And my boobs are not big enough to put stress on the buttons. The thread holding the buttons on was just that rotten.)

Ah, well. The fashion world requires a certain amount of sacrifice of comfort to attain style. Not exactly the sacrifice of comfort that I was anticipating.


Saturday, November 05, 2005


They say if you have three of anything, you're building a collection. I have many, many collections and I invariably wonder at some point what got me started.

For instance, I have a large collection of cow items. At one point my kitchen was virtually covered in cows. And yet, I have no conscious memory of when I bought my first cow collectible. It seemed to mushroom overnight. And after friends and family found out about my propensity for black and white cows, the collection grew exponentially at every birthday and Christmas. I finally had to declare a moratorium on cows, took down all but the best and packed them away. But I still feel that itch when I happen across a unique cow. And I still buy an occasional cow that I just can't resist. Why cows? I have no idea.

I collect doll houses. I remember the start of that one. As a child, I always wanted a dollhouse and never had one. On a whim, Mother gave me several miniature furniture kits one Christmas. I very much enjoyed creating those tiny pieces of furniture and then I needed something to put them in. So I bought my first dollhouse kit. Then my second. I now have five dollhouses, numerous vignettes, and boxes full of furniture bought on sales at Hobby Lobby for future use when I get around to building the half-dozen dollhouse kits and dozen or so roombox kits that are still in boxes under my craft table. My guest bedroom has been dubbed the "house room", because the walls are lined with houses in all scales. I have more kits on hand than I will probably ever have time to build and yet I invariably drag in another kit whenever I happen across a good sale. (Maybe it's not only dollhouses I collect, but dollhouse kits?)

I have a very odd collection that I didn't even realize I was amassing until my sister-in-law pointed it out to me. I love desks. Full size. Dollhouse size. I just love desks. I have my antique birds-eye maple drop-leaf desk that my parents bought for me in Victoria about forty years ago. I have my antique oak desk in my study, purchased several years ago; a lucky find at the Round Top Antiques Fair. I have an oak student's desk that I use in my bedroom as a tv/dvd/dvr stand. I have a quaint oak drop leaf desk with built-in bookshelves that stands in the upstairs hall and holds my collection of turn of the century Amelia Barr books (that's another collection story for another time). I have custody of my mother's antique drop-leaf walnut desk. And I'm providing housing for my father's mahogany desk, which will eventually go to live with my brother. But for the moment it's desk number six in a single family home. No matter how you look at it, no house holding two people really needs six desks. But I can't help it. I love desks.

I'm currently working on a dollhouse vignette of a study with a genealogy flavor. I already had a mini computer desk for one corner and until last night was planning to use my mini oak rolltop desk in the same room. But it just didn't feel right. An idle search through a miniatures site last week gave me the answer. In yesterday's UPS delivery the perfect mini-desk for the project came along. A mission-style pecan desk with built-in bookshelves. My only regret is that I have not seen its full-size counterpart. I'm a goner if I happen across it.

What inspires collections? Something speaks to your inner self. My inner self could use a twelve-step program. I'm not out of control (from my viewpoint--others may disagree), but I have as many collections as Carter's used to have little pills. (Didn't they finally go out of business?) I have stores of books, yarn, glassware, family memorabilia, Christmas ornaments (that I haven't used in years, by the way, thanks to marauding cats and puppies), cats and puppies, and God knows what else. Within my miniatures, aside from the growing pile of kits, I have sub-collections of miniature pottery, mini hand-made sweaters, mini glassware, and the list goes on and on.

I guess at some point I will have to decide who will inherit my assorted treasures. Or maybe I am just setting myself up to have a supplmental retirement income in the distant future. I trust EBAY will still be there when the time comes. Or maybe I will just sit on my cloud with my harp and watch my poor heirs struggle to figure out what in the world the old lady was thinking.