Friday, March 31, 2006

Tom Garner

I was driving down Cesar Chavez Street on the way home today and my attention was snagged by a cozy front porch scene. It wasn't anything special - just a glider covered with a quilt, inviting you to lounge the afternoon away.

I'm not sure why, but my thoughts sprang immediately back to my grandparents' house in Gladewater. Not the house where they spent their retirement years, but the house where they lived when I was a child. It wasn't the porch but the general architectural style of the house that prodded my memory.

The house was just a simple frame bungalow style. Nothing outstanding and I don't remember much about the interior. I remember things about the yard. There was a storm cellar in the backyard, a thing that was unheard of in the part of the state where we lived. I don't think they ever had to use it for the purpose for which it was intended. It was usually opened and I would sometimes explore the cool, dark recesses where my grandmother stored jars of preserves.

I remember the railroad tracks that ran behind the house. There was a steep incline at the back of the property and you would see the top of the trains as they passed. A fence ran along the back of the yard, protecting you from a sudden tumble down the bank onto the tracks. At one corner of that fence was an old animal cage where Rascal lived. Rascal was a black and white cat of incredibly bad disposition. I think he was about 110 years old. He was one of the few cats of my life that I was never able to charm. I can remember him visiting with my grandfather, but the rest of the world could go hang as far as he was concerned. I remember that Rascal was still around when they moved, but he was a mighty old cat at the time and died soon afterwards.

There was a second cat in residence, a calico named Rainbow. She was friendlier than Rascal, but not by much. She had the attitude that she was better than everyone else and expected everyone to treat her like royalty. Which my grandmother generally did, serving her chicken necks on demand and waiting on her hand and foot.

I've always had a fondness for cats and it was hard to accept that those two just didn't give a flip whether I liked them or not. They sure didn't like me. I've written before about the long period I spent with my grandparents one summer. It was a lonesome few weeks and I craved a playmate, but those two cats were having none of it.

Next door lived an older couple, about my grandparents' ages, and Mae and my grandmother were good friends. She was a sweet lady and she always welcomed me when I wandered over to their yard looking for something to do. When I discovered that she was feeding a stray kitten, I became a frequent visitor and the kitten and I became fast friends. He was a little gray striped alley cat with a personality that wouldn't quit. We played together and it wasn't long before I was in love with the nameless kitten.

When it came time to go home, I couldn't stand the thought of leaving the kitten. My parents were willing to let me adopt him, but the problem was that Mae loved him as much as I did and she didn't want to let him go. Bless her heart, she finally caved in to the sad little face I was wearing and told me to give him a good home.

The task of naming him was difficult. Nothing seemed to fit. Finally, it was suggested that we call him the traditional "Tom". I agreed, but for some reason, we decided that if he were going to be named Tom, then he should be named for Mae's husband, Tom Garner.

I wrote Mae a thank you note and told her the kitten had been christened Tom Garner. She told my grandmother that she was so tickled about that that she almost had an "accident" right there on the porch as she read the letter.

Tom Garner was my first experience with a pet that was truly mine. He loved the whole family, but he was my cat. We had a great time together and he stuck to me like glue. He was one of the all-time great cats. Mother even fell under his spell and kept liver on hand to feed him, even though it was expensive cat food.

Unfortunately his time with us was short. He ran afoul of a neighbor's dog when he was only about two years' old. It was a devastating loss for the entire family. I didn't think I would ever love another cat like I loved Tom Garner.

Those special, one of a kind cats come along once in a blue moon. I've been lucky to know a few of them. Tom Garner. Tinker. Zonker. You learn to treasure them for the brief time you have them in your life. And mourn them forever when they're gone. And pray that you will be lucky enough to find another one to love and to have love you back.


Sunday, March 26, 2006

Two Losses

You know, the first real memories I have are from when I was about 3-4. And some of those early memories are of music. We were living in San Gabriel and I can remember being crazy about Perry Como about that time. I loved "Hot Diggity" and "Catch a Falling Star". I loved "Stardust". Mother says I was partial to Bing Crosby. I do recall "Swing on a Star", so I suppose she's right, as much as I would like to deny it.

When we moved to Oak Hill, my music tastes broadened a little, thanks to my father taking a membership in a record club. We acquired a nice stereo system and a collection of country music. My new favorite singer was Marty Robbins, but we had a variety of country artists in our collection and I listened to them all. I can remember one of my favorite songs from way back then was "You Don't Know Me".

I don't know why or how I learned that the song was written by Eddy Arnold and Cindy Walker, but I know that I knew that fact at an early point in my life. I probably liked the fact that one of my favorite songs was written by another Cindy and I was always interested when I saw her name show up beside songs through the years. I've mentioned before that I read album notes and her name turns up quite frequently. She penned hits for almost everybody.

I was really sad to read of her death this week. She was a gifted songwriter, born and bred in Texas. I'll always be thankful especially for "You Don't Know Me", my 3rd favorite song of all time. (Right behind "Greensleeves" and "Unchained Melody".)

No sooner than I adjusted to that loss came the news of the passing of Buck Owens. For true honky tonkin' music, you can't do much better than ole Buck. We had one of his first albums with "My Heart Skips a Beat" and "Together Again" and some lesser known songs like "Ain't it Amazin' Gracie" and "Hello, Trouble". I bought that album again as soon as it was released on CD and it's always a good choice when you need a little bouncy, good humor music.

And for all that folks like to look down their noses and sneer about the "Hee Haw" years, I defy you to watch a rerun of that show and not laugh. Several times.

The lights of Music City Row have dimmed this week. Two of the brightest have gone out.

Cindy Walker was born July 20, 1918 in Mart, Texas. She was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997. She died March 23, 2006, at the age of 87.

Buck Owens was born August 12, 1929, in Sherman, Texas. He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996. He died March 24, 2006, at the age of 76.


Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Curse Words & Profanity

Today was one of those days that you realize too late that you should have crawled back under the covers and stayed there. I should have known when I awoke suddenly at 4AM and couldn't get back to sleep.

I should have known when, after putting in an hour's worth of work between 7 and 8 AM, I suddenly discovered that the data base I was updating had portions of it that had been scrambled since I last worked on it.

Well, my chiropractic appointment went well. And my hair cut turned out well. I figured the tide had turned.

Yeah, right. As soon as I got back online with the office network, the cow do hit the fan. Files went splat, clients got upset, an ongoing item stuck in my craw dug in a little deeper and the cat threw up. I worked the required amount of time to put in my full day and pulled the plug.

It didn't take long for me to decide to run out for a bucket of chicken and avoid the inevitable kitchen fire. I headed first for the bank to get some money. I drove through the ATM line, only to find that the ATM machine was down. I drove a big circle around the bank and got into a line to cash a check. That accomplished, I headed out, decided I had better make sure I got the right amount of cash, discovered I had been given $50 too much and made another big circle around the bank, waited for the guy ahead of me to get done, and returned the $50, and made another big circle around the bank and headed out toward KFC.

It was another circus act at KFC where I first had to establish that I didn't need any stinkin' biscuits that had to cook for another 10 minutes, got my bag of chicken and the wrong receipt which took her 5 tries to figure out where the pience of paper was that I was supposed to have gotten.

Good Lord. I don't know which of my ruling stars are crossed, but for crying out loud I hope they get themselves straightened out before I end up getting blood poisoning from the stapler.

Thank heavens for little dogs. When all the world is spinning wildly out of control, nothing can make things right as well as the greeting you get when you finally make it back to the house and your 3 biggest fans launch themselves at you with joyful abandon. If you ever need to feel like you matter, get yourself a dog.

Thankfully, this day is drawing to a close. Hope lives eternal that tomorrow will be a better day. If I just don't oversleep.


Friday, March 17, 2006

'Tis Glad I Am to Be Irish

In honor of me kinfolks, the Dunivans and the Hughes, I extend to you this Irish blessing:

Here's to the four hinges of society.
May you fight, steal, lie and drink.
When you fight, may you fight for your country.
When you steal, may you steal away from bad company.
When you lie, may you lie at the side of your sweetheart.
And when you drink, may you drink with me.
And to those of ye who may have wondered about the title of me last writin', 'tis the name of the hit song of the characters Mitch & Mickey from the movie. Completely forgot to tie it in, I did.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Kiss At the End of the Rainbow

Still watching movies. I'm always way behind the times because I really don't enjoy going to the theater anymore. So I wait for movies to hit Pay-for-View or DVD and sometimes I wait until they show up in the $5.50 bin at WalMart. That's where I found A Mighty Wind just recently.

The movie is a hoot for those of us who remember the folk music boom of the early sixties. It's a mock documentary covering the reunion concert of three folk music groups: The Folksmen (think Kingston Trio), the Main Street Singers (think New Christy Minstrels), and Mitch & Mickey (think Paul & Paula). It's all played very seriously and it sometimes takes a second to realize the total absurdity of what has just been said. (The Folksmen had a distribution problem--no holes in their records. You had to put the hole in yourself. Ok, the CD generation probably didn't even get that one.)

I found myself thinking of a night many, many, many years ago when I had the chance to meet Ray Hildebrand. Also known as Paul of Paul & Paula. He was performing at a youth revival somewhere in Central Texas and a group of us kids went to one of the services. He was past the Paul & Paula phase of his career and had become an inspirational speaker. He graciously signed autographs and posed for pictures, both of which I've lost over the years. A little Googling shows that he is still performing as a Christian singer. Glad to see he's still alive and kicking.

Ah, the good old days. Watching the folk singers on Hootenanny on Saturday nights. Playing the Brothers Four and the Kingston Trio records until you could sing every part of every song. Peter, Paul & Mary. The Chad Mitchell Trio. The New Christy Minstrels and the Serendipity Singers.

The folk music heyday didn't last that long, thanks to some long-haired boys that came over from England and sent music in an entirely different direction. But some of us old fogies still have a stash of folk music that we pull out and listen to from time to time. Good stuff.

Speaking of the long-haired Englanders, have I told you yet about the time we did the Beatles parody at the Halloween carnival and I played one of the band members? Now there's a night to forget.


Monday, March 13, 2006

Recommended Rerun

I had a lazy spurt this past weekend and spent part of Sunday sprawled in a patio chair with a dog in my lap and my portable DVD player on the table beside me. A few weeks ago I had picked up the "Special Edition" of All the President's Men, a movie that came out in 1976. I was a senior in college that year and my roommate Lanu and I made an impulse drive from Belton to Austin one evening to see the movie when it was in the theater. I'm not sure what prompted us to do such a thing, since neither of us was at all interested in politics at the time. All I can figure is it had something to do with sitting in the dark and drooling over Robert Redford.

I can remember how much I enjoyed that movie. The story involved events that were only a few years old, but I'm sure I had little awareness of the investigative reporting that had caused the downfall of the presidency until I saw it unfold on the movie screen.

It had been a long time since I had sat through the movie. I found myself just as caught up in the story these many years later as I had been that night in the theater. I also enjoyed the DVD extras, which included a vintage "making of" feature and a second featurette wherein Redford, Hoffman, Hal Holbrook, Jane Alexander, and Ben Bradlee reminisced about the events of the time and the challenges of presenting the story on the big screen. This DVD issue also had a feature on the man who just recently revealed himself to be Deep Throat. It is all in all a very enjoyable package of movie and extras.

And along in there somewhere you get slapped in the face with how eerily familiar the whole thing seems. After all, the whole thing centered on the secrecy of an administration that felt it was above the law. It dealt with dirty politics and Republicans who did their best to destroy the checks and balances of democracy. Deja vu.

I usually leave the topic of politics to little brother, but permit me a bit of a rant here. There's nothing I hate worse than lies and that is the reason why I despise the current administration, who wouldn't know truth if it bit them on their collective butt. How I hope that some budding Woodward and Bernstein are chipping away at the foundation of all those lies, but I somehow doubt it.

Do yourself a favor. If you get a chance to see All the President's Men, give it another watching. And see if you don't catch the similarities. History does have a way of repeating itself.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Just Do It

Today is National Get Over It Day. Hmmm. I guess I will choose to get over the ill treatment that I received at the hands of a group of first graders waaaaay back in about 1960 at a classmate's birthday party. Thinking back, it's probably the reason why I've never trusted girl friends any further than I can throw 'em.

Also why I dislike birthday parties.

Also why I've always been drawn to slightly older men. (Sweet treatment from little miss bitch's older brother.)

Ok. I'm over it. I feel all better now.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

Embrace Your Weird Inner Self

I have an odd way of having fun. I've decided to stop apologizing for it. So what if everybody thinks I'm loony?

This morning I took off for a day of cemetery hopping. There were several requests open in the FindAGrave website for photos of graves that were within reasonable driving distance of Bastrop. I decided to make a big loop through Bastrop, Lee, Fayette and Gonzales counties and perform a few random acts of genealogical kindness.

I started off at the Giddings Public Library, getting the locations for the photos to be taken at the Giddings City Cemetery. I dearly love small town libraries. You never know what you're going to find there. Today I was the first patron through the doors when they opened and was fortunate to find a friendly, helpful librarian. She got me set up with the cemetery indexes and I spent a very nice hour gathering the burial information I needed and sifting through a two-volume Lee County history.

The next hour was spent walking the Giddings City Cemetery. I not only picked up the photos requested, I finally got a couple of family grave photos that I had never had a chance to get before now. With that errand complete, I headed down Highway 77 to LaGrange.

Some of the prettiest country I know is in Fayette County. The rolling green pastures are filled with the most picturesque cattle and farm buildings and everyone down there appears to take great pride in their fences. It is just picture perfect country scenery. The weather was perfect, so I opened the sun roof to get the fresh air, put on my Big & Rich cd and thoroughly enjoyed my drive.

Next stop was Weikel's Bakery in LaGrange. Mother loves their kolaches and I can't resist their cinnamon rolls. A trip anywhere close to LaGrange calls for a detour to Weikel's.

With the scent of cinnamon rolls rising up from the back seat, I headed down 609 to the Cedar Cemetery for another photo request. I was pleasantly surprised to find a cemetery bulletin board with a plat of the burials, so I fulfilled that request quickly and headed on down 609 toward Waelder. More green rolling hills and more photogenic cattle. One big white cow was curled up on the ground asleep, looking as cute as a certain little dog I know. That's some accomplishment for a white cow with horns.

At Waelder, I drove right up to a cemetery with the sign "Waelder City Cemetery". I had never been to Waelder before, so I had no reason to doubt that this was the City Cemetery. As I walked through, looking for the requested grave, I became more and more appalled. The cemetery is in horrendous condition. Where burials had taken place, mounds of dirt had been pushed up and left behind. Graves were sunken in. Headstones were buried in accumulated dirt. Weeds were kneehigh in places. I failed to find the name I was looking for and left, mentally composing a letter to somebody to register my disgust with the City of Waelder's cemetery maintenance.

I decided to take a back road back to Bastrop and imagine my surprise to suddenly come up on three adjoining cemeteries, labeled respectively as "Waelder Cemetery", "Community Cemetery", and "Hopkinsville Masonic Cemetery". These cemeteries were in pristine condition. I quickly deduced that the "Community Cemetery" was the Spanish community's cemetery, and the other two were basically the white community's cemetery. Further deducing led me to conclude that the first, badly maintained, cemetery I had encountered was the black community's burial grounds. I'm still appalled at its condition and I think the City should be ashamed of themselves for displaying such a disparate level of care for its dead.

I ended up my tour with a drive up Highway 304, through Jeddo, String Prairie and Hills Prairie. Other than a bad case of sore feet from too much tramping on uneven ground, I had a marvelous time.

I may have odd ideas of fun, but I think I come by it honestly. I can remember many a time listening to my grandparents Hodge talking about their trips driving around the country and checking out cemeteries. I've picked up the torch and I intend to keep at it.

You do your thing. I'll do mine.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Family by Chance

Being a genealogist, I think a lot about family connections. Constantly. But earlier this week I got to thinking about family relations without the blood connection. Obviously, this was due to attending the funeral of a man I worked with many years ago. Since the service on Monday morning, I've found myself thinking a lot about the people who have come and gone in my 30 years with the law firm.

It's not that common to work such a long stretch of time in the same place. At least not these days. Young people these days jump from job to job with little thought of building longevity with a company. Of course companies don't last like they used to and they don't cultivate the loyalty in their employees the way they used to, so I guess it's understandable that employees don't go into a job expecting to stay forever.

I didn't either way back in 1976. I had in mind to work a couple of years to get something to put on my resume and then move on. I took the position of secretary to a young attorney in a five attorney lawfirm a few blocks from the Capitol. In addition to the attorneys, we had an office manager and his assistant, a staff supervisor, and about 10 of us clerical peons.

The supervisor and four of us "girls" shared one large room and three other "girls" worked in the next room. In the copy room were a couple of data entry clerks, in the back room were a couple of calculation clerks, and a file clerk flitted about the whole building.

Like any other family, we didn't necessarily like each other, but we were bound together by a sense of common purpose. We all knew every client and we all cheered the others' accomplishments and commiserated over the disappointments. If one of us fell behind on a project, the rest of us would drop everything and pitch in and get the job done. We all worked together; we knew what each of us was working on; we pulled together for the common cause. We both feared and poked fun at the top boss when he wasn't around, sort of the same way you would a domineering father. We knew each other's husbands and boyfriends, kids and grandkids. We were a family. Adopted, all of us, but a family nonetheless. We stood by each other and by the company.

You don't get that kind of work environment anymore. The same firm now has 10 attorneys and about 100 clerical staff sprinkled around the state. Nowadays folks can come on board and be there two months before you realize there's a new body in the building. Each attorney operates his own little world with his own staff and they work exclusively with their own handful of clients with little awareness of what's going on in the other parts of the firm. Flex time has created a constant in and out of employees on a wide ranging schedule and it's entirely possible to go days without seeing your co-workers if your schedules get out of sync. There are small groups of workers who band together in friendship, but not the company wide sense of family that I had the fortune to experience in those days long ago.

There are only a handful of people who have been with the firm as long as I have. When I started I was the wet-behind-the-ears baby of the firm. I'm now at the other end of the spectrum. Seen it all, done it all, know which closets the skeletons are stored in, and forgotten more than the youngsters will ever know. I've learned not to get too attached to anyone in the firm, because the people come and go so quickly. So much has changed, in fact, that I no longer have a sense of family in the workplace. It's the office and I'm no longer emotionally attached to it.

Except for those people who were there in those early days. I still consider Shelly and Clyde and Pris and Laird and Gil and Liz as part of my family. We met each other in those days when you could take time to get to know and care about each other while you worked together. There are others in the office I consider my friends, but there are those few that share my memories of a different time and place. And that common bond is almost as strong as blood.

There was a time not so long ago when it was not unusual to spend your entire work life with one company. Now it's downright odd. I have a lot of conflicting feelings as I approach that 30 year mark on June 14th. I feel like I'm one of the last doddering members of a family line that is coming to an end. Sometimes I wonder if anyone else mourns its passing.