Sunday, July 31, 2016

I hear the sound of breaking glass

I spent last week glued to my television while scanning Twitter posts as my Democratic Party nominated Hillary Rodham Clinton as our candidate for President of the United States.

She will not have an easy time ahead.

Much of America is angry with politicians and what is perceived as a government that responds to lobbyists rather than to the working middle class, and Americans are scared of the racial violence in our steets and terrorists who are theatening us here and abroad.

We are the televison generation, used to having solutions to crises within 43 minutes, which is the actual running time for an hour TV drama.

Tempers are running short. A significant number of Republicans feel Donald Trump bullied his way into being their nominee. Many respected Republican Party leaders are not endorsing him, but I hear neighbors vowing to vote for him. I think they like the idea that he has no political experience, which gives them hope he will get Big Government out of their daily lives and let local government--the men and women they see at the Brookshire Brothers grocery store--divvy up the tax money and decide who gets to go into which public restroom at the county courthouse and local schools.

I understand their frustration, I really do. But I do not share their distrust.

No, Hillary Clinton will not have an easy time, but when have women in leadership ever had it easy? I can still hear my mother Lane Murray who was the first superintendent of the Texas prison school system, tell me shortly after she retired: "Do you have any idea what it's like to know every eye is watching you, waiting for you to make a mistake?"

The question stunned me because I'd never considered the pressure she was under. Silly me.

The truth is, it takes an enormous sense of purpose to stand in the unforgiving eye of the public. It takes grit to stay the course, as we say in education. I'm proud to live in America where strong-minded women with a sense of purpose can break glass ceilings and change the way we think of leadership.

I do not know if Hillary Clinton will be our next President, but I do know this for sure: The ceiling has been shattered, and things will never be the same as before; having a female US President will not be unique in the years to come.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Painful Week to Remember

The perfect storm formed earlier last week. African-American Alton Sterling was shot and killed in Louisiana by police while he was pinned to the ground. Less than 48 hours later a Minnesota police officer shot and killed another African American man, named Philando Castile, during a routine traffic stop as the man reached for his driver’s license and registration. The next night, twelve Dallas police officers were shot and five (Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarriopa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith and Lorne Ahrens) were killed by an African American sniper in retaliation during a Black Lives Matter protest march in Texas.

According to ABC News: 

The Rev. Jeff Hood, one of the organizers of the protest said the goal of the rally was to create “a space where anger could be let out. We were interested in creating a space where people could grieve. We were interested in creating a space where people could network to face head-on the problem of police brutality in our country."

He added, "We left that rally in a nonviolent fashion. After leaving the rally, I heard 'Pop, pop, pop, pop, pop' in succession. Immediately when I heard the shots, I looked up, and I saw what I believe were two police officers that went down."
"The sergeant ran towards the shooting. I ran the opposite direction … was screaming, 'Run, run! Active shooter, active shooter! Run, run!' And I was trying to get folks out as fast as I could … During that moment, I lost track of my wife. I didn't find her again for three and a half hours," Hood said.

"I spent those three hours talking to people asking the question, 'Why, why? Why is this happening?' The only answer I know now and the only answer I knew then was turn to love. We've got to turn to love. We got to stop shooting," he said. "This is a devastating time for the city of Dallas. It's a devastating time for us as activists and organizers."

Let’s be clear, Dallas is the focal point for the national and international media outlets right now, but retaliation elsewhere in response for the killings of Black citizens is occurring in other places.  Police have also been ambushed in Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee.

Terror and confusion rule the day (and night). What is happening? Are we witnessing the beginning of a race war, or the defining moment when Americans begin to build reconciliation and seek understanding? Will we realign ourselves to embrace diversity and fill our hearts with tolerance, or will we draw deeper lines that divide communities, even families?
While elected officials and other wannabe politicians may rush to judgment to feed the hungry media beast, I believe it is important for the rest of us to step back, take several deep breaths and reflect on how are we feeling? When we share our deep, personal emotions in response to the historical events of our time, our eyewitness stories become more powerful than any chapter in a history textbook or Wikipedia entry can ever hope to be. We are on the front row as history unfolds.
But even more importantly, by writing what we think and how we feel, we can begin to heal from the trauma all of us are experiencing this summer. As Dr. James Pennebaker at the University of Texas has discovered, writing about life’s stresses is profoundly therapeutic. Writing in our personal journals about the shame, the blame and the pain we are feeling today will actually save us from sinking further into the abyss of craziness.
I urge you to get out your journal and write—or draw—what you are feeling about the grip that violence has on our community. Explore the details of what you’re feeling instead of being terrorized by apparitions flickering from the dark recesses of your mind.
Write fast—against the clock—in ten minutes—or less. You don’t ever have to show it to anyone else. This is private writing, for your eyes only.
However, you may find that when you re-read it in a few months or a year, that you’ll be able to understand what you are going through and be able to bring an individual perspective to things that would not be possible otherwise.
I often say, writing is thinking on paper. What do you think, really think, and how do you feel about the chaos swirling around us? Tell yourself the truth. Your truth. And why.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

1st date remembered

Ronnie and I "met" online on a site called Plenty of Fish. I'd been on and off the site for several years, not really finding any fish that were worth keeping, but it was different with Ronnie. There was an instant connection. We flirted for several weeks, eventually exchanged phone numbers and flirted some more. Finally, we decided to meet for lunch at a restaurant on the outskirts of Houston.

I remember he was waiting just outside the door. He had on sunglasses, jeans and a collared shirt. The hostess seated us and we both ordered steak salads. I did most of the talking, but God only knows what I said. First meetings are so flustering.

I left for Dallas afterwards and was gone a week. He called me every night.

I returned home the first week of July and he asked me out. Our first official date was July 4, 2011.

Ronnie rode to The Woodlands where I was living, picked me up on his Harley-Davidson trike and brought me back to Houston. We watched the fireworks flashing magnificently across the Houston skyline from the freeway.

Since moving to Navasota, we've celebrated in College Station on the grounds of the George Bush memorial library at Texas A&M University.  We ride the trike with camp chairs tied to the back. I play patriotic music on my iPhone and we watch the children chase fireflies, and each other, in the twilight before the show begins.

Tomorrow will mark the fifth year since our first date. We are in St. Jo, Texas, visiting my brother Mark and his wife at their ranch, so we're in Ronnie's BMW, not on his Harley.

We plan to drive into town for the fireworks. St. Jo is a small town, so the fireworks show will not be as bold as the ones we've seen elsewhere, but flags will wave proudly and the rockets' red glare will fill the sky and we will celebrate. Oh how we will celebrate.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Living lazy

Summer days, and the living is lazy. It seems I have done nothing but porch sit, sleep, eat, read, and do laundry. And I'm loving life (except for the laundry part).

Porch sitting is the best. Ronnie brews coffee and makes our toast, and we sit on the second floor porch of our 1875 Victorian home and watch the squirrels raid the bird feeder. After they get their fill, Cardinals and wrens take turns. We watch the cars and pickups taking people to work and kids to school, and talk about how it will be when I retire in December.

We are getting our RV ready for a trip to Alpine, TX, next month. We bought a car-caddy so we could take the Mini Cooper with us. We can ride to Marfa or travel over to Fort Stockton without taking our highway home with us.

We've been on short overnight trips in the RV, but this will be for an entire week, and we will be in the RV together instead of me following behind in my car. If we love it as much as we think we will, after I retire, we plan to trek around Texas to all 95 state parks. Although there is a man named Dale Blasingame who did it in a tad over 12 months (367 days), I think Ronnie and I will ramble at a slower pace.

I'm looking forward to Palo Duro Canyon State Park and Lost Maples State Park; they've been on my bucket list for at least a decade. And it will be nostalgic to vist Huntsville State Park and Garner State Park. I'm sure they've changed significantly since the 1960s.

There isn't a porch attached to the RV, but there is a coffeepot and toaster inside and two camp chairs with our names on them.  I'm gonna love being retired with this man.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Behind every story

Happy Father's Day!

Google makes me smile the way the company posts its logo with cultural themes. Guess what today is?

The image reminds me of my daddy and the way I adored him. He was the best storyteller! I still remember two of them that starred me as the heroine. 

In one of the stories, I dug my way to China with a spoon from the kitchen. In another, instead of having hazel eyes, I had a green eye and a red eye, which made me the town's savior when the traffic lights went out and I was able to move traffic along with the wink of an eye--and then the other. 

Silly stories to you perhaps, but when these tiny red Keds fit my feet (see above), I was stuck in the middle between two brothers, and it was rare to feel the warmth of the limelight. My daddy's stories illustrated his faith in me. Through those stories, he let me know he believed that I would go places (China is still on my bucket list) and that I'd help my fellow travelers along the way.

My daddy was the creative one in the family. But his ideas would have flown off on butterfly wings, if not for my mother. She kept my daddy grounded, and she was his partner in building a successful career in educational media. They produced two award winning films. But more importantly, they produced three children who've been raised to jump at life's chance to be everyday heroes.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Settling in a new hometown

Young people often can hardly wait to grow up and leave the small towns where they were raised. I was certainly one of those. My brothers and I yearned to get away from a community where everyone knew everyone else's business. We raced to the city--for me it was Houston, for my brothers, it was Dallas--so we could kick up our heels in anonymity and then find a spouse--someone we hadn't known since the first grade.

After living in Houston for 48 years, my sweetie and I moved to Navasota, population 7,049. Getting to know everyone is not as easy when you move into a community as an adult, especially if you don't have kids in school. But we're smart people, and we are finding our way.

Our first friend in town was Mitch White, proprietor of the Filling Station Restaurant and Cafe. Ronnie bartered his Fender guitar to Mitch in exchange for food service. We ate "free" for over a year. Mitch's daughter was on the high school drill team, so we started attending games. Navasota's Rattler Nation has won the state championship for the last two years.

After his daughter graduated from high school, Mitch closed his establishment and started a rock band. Occasionally we go to the Dizzy Llama to listen, but we're not regulars... because... let's be honest, we hardly resemble the hard party people we were in our youth. Smoke-filled bar rooms that smell of stale beer and tobacco have lost their appeal. But we like Mitch, and we enjoy his band, so we show up on occastion, listen to a set, and then scurry home in time for Saturday Night Live and Blue Bell ice cream.

Recently we joined the Two Rivers Historical Society, which is the smartest thing we've done so far. A couple of weeks ago Judge Eddie Harrison of Brenham gave a presentation on the Buffalo Soldiers. He is a direct descendent--his father was a Buffalo Solider--so we were privy to anechdotes not availabe in a textbook or on Wikipeida.

"Riders of the Orphan Train" is scheduled for Saturday, June 18, at St. Stanislaus Cathiolic Chruch parish hall in Anderson, TX, at 2 p.m. Not too many peple know much about the mass migrarion of 250,000 orphans and abandoned children who were taken out of New York City and given away at train stations across the west. About two dozen were taken in by farm families in Anderson and Plantersville in the early 1900s; many of their desendents still live around here. The stories of the orphans who came to Texas are compelling.

I hope you'll drive out to Anderson--it's smaller than Navasota but it is the county seat. Ronnie and I will be there. If you'll come, you'll enjoy a dramatic and powerful story-- and we'll introudce you to our neighbors.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

After the floods, is a sweltering summer on its way?

Last weekend's severe storms were devastating.

I watched in horror as the 24-hour news feed showed vehicles being submerged and swept away, of homes being swamped by rising water, of tornadoes tearing away roof tops and yes, of accounts of people being stranded and found drowned. In Brenham, a short 30 miles away, someone drowned in a motor home and a young father was swept away by the rising water from the Brazos River that capsized his pickup truck. Another family reported their house being knocked off its foundation by torrential flood waters.

According to news reports, the double-digit inch rains in Texas qualified as a 500-year flood event. Only trouble is, this is the second 500-year flood we've had in the last two months!

On May 22-23, during the last catastrophic flooding, I was in Houston. My place was dry and I had power, but the flooding marooned my son and me for 24 hours. People in apartments near one of the college's centers were climbing on the rooftops to escape the rising water. When the storm was over, Houston and the region suffered $5 billion in damages.

Last weekend during the ravaging rains, I was in Navasota, and again, my house was dry and I had electricity, but there was a power outage around 10 p.m. at the state prison farm outside of town. A brawl broke out between 50 prisoners and correctional officers after inmates refused to return to their darkened cells when the emergency generator malfunctioned.  Three are recovering in the hospital.

Navasota reported 10 inches of rain and 60+mph wind gusts. Local officials set up Navasota Junior High as a shelter for folks, but livestock had to survive on their own since the animal shelter was full. Our three dogs found refuge in the house. A neighbor in the next block has goats... we still have not heard how they fared.

Ronnie was on his way home when his BMW flooded. Thank heaven, he didn't get swept away from the creek that rose from its banks only five yards from where his car stalled. He walked home in water that rode as high as his knees. I'd say he walked home in the dark, but he counted at least a hundred lightening strikes across the sky during the ten block trek.

After the storm, a wrecker took the car to College Station where the dealership assessed damages. Unfortunately it's a total loss. Still, it's just a car. Ronnie is alive, and I am grateful.

More rain came through during this week, and I cancelled my weekly trip to Houston for fear I might get stuck there. If I'm going to be stranded, I want to be with my sweetie and my dogs.

Eventually all the rains of Spring will subside, and Summer will blaze like hell-on-heels. We may face destructive wildfires as we have during recent summer seasons. I hope not, but there is no way to predict... unless, of course, we believe the scientists who are warning of climate change caused by humanity's misuse of the environment.

Can we stop raping our surroundings of its resources and reclaim the balance of nature? That's a hard choice for Texas, a state that worships oil and gas production to the detriment of everything else. But I think we've been warned: Mother Nature is getting pissed.