Sunday, September 28, 2014

Are you saved?

At the core of One Amazing Thing, by Chitra Divakaruni, the people trapped after an earthquake in the passport office decide to tell an amazing story that they have never shared before with anyone. The stories give a depth and understanding to the characters that we wouldn’t have had if they hadn’t told their amazing stories.

And so it is with us.

I have my father’s journal that he kept his senior year in Battle Creek, Michigan. In it he writes about the Spanish-American war, about running and losing the race for class president as the new kid and the bullying that ensued, about the difference (in his teenage mind in the 1920s) between a good girl and a floosy.

I have my son’s journal that he kept during his 7th grade in Meadows, TX, a suburb of Houston. When he graduated from UT with honors and began teaching 7th grade geography, I got it out and let him read it. He was shocked by how much he defied authority. But having the evidence in writing helped him become a more insightful teacher.

I have my own pink journal that I kept after my divorce. Page after page I try to make sense of the betrayal, of the death of a marriage, of the hopelessness… and little by little, hope shows up again, and I move on with my life. The life I have today is filled with a joy I could  not imagine in 1991, but I have "walked through the valley of death" to get here, and my pink journal documents the journey.

 "When a person dies, a library is burned," writes author and poet Jandy Nelson. And it is true. If the person does not write her story--her legacy to her descendants.

Are you saved?

I challenge you to weave together your amazing stories from the threads of your life and make an heirloom tapestry that will be handed down from generation to generation.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

High School Football

Despite threatening rain clouds, homecoming at Navasota High School brought out the entire town. Alumni as far back as the Class of '35 were honored (that's 80 amazing years!), and the bleachers were filled with people of all ages dressed in blue and white attire.

While the rain stayed way, memories of my own high school senior year homecoming flooded my mind. Navasota's Rattler Nation includes a marching band complete with a majorette and six flag girls, the Diamonette drill team, a slew of cheerleaders, and no less than 54 football players who suited up for the game. Back in my day, the green and white fighting Huntsville Hornets had no drill team, no flag girls, only six cheerleaders, and maybe 20 players.

But the hometown spirit was the same: Friday night football in Texas rules!

In the 1960s, we girls wore mums to homecoming. We'd keep them afterwards, pinned to our mirrors or walls where they turned brown and dried to fragile artifacts. My mind conjured the images of those big fat white flowers, and I thought how times have changed.

The corsages I saw Friday night were made of artificial flowers and accessorized with bling on steroids. Lots of different styles, too. The style I'd consider traditional was worn on the left shoulder, but oh my gosh, the glittered streamers flowed from shoulder to ankle. There were also corsages as necklaces, as armbands, and the most popular: as garters worn on the thigh. The garters were favored by the cheerleaders in their min-skirts, as well as spectators in blue jean shorts.

How times have changed.

Even though the 1960s claimed Drugs, Sex, and Rock 'Roll as its banner in American culture, Huntsville High School officials held tightly to the values of the 1950s, and cheerleader skirts were required to hit mid-calf, covering darn near all of their legs. Even if flower-clad garters had been available (and trust me, they were not), L.K. Westmoreland would never have allowed the cheerleaders on the field had they dared to wear them.

Confession: Ronnie and I did not stay for the entire game. The Rattlers were ahead 42-3 at halftime, and we felt confident the hometown team could win without our cheering from the stands. We bought "Navasota Rattlers Get Ready" t-shirts because we heard that the Rattlers will probably go to District and we will want to be in the stands to witness their win. We watched the crowning of Rebecca White as homecoming queen and listened to the Class of '35 and the Class of '45 sing the school song. While most folks stayed for the rest of the game, hollering and stomping and cheering the Rattlers as the second half began, we sneaked out.

While I  waited for Ronnie to get the car from the crowded parking lot, I sang my school song softy to myself ("Oh, Huntsville High School, hear us singing our love and loyalty to thee beneath the shadows of the pine trees..."). We moseyed over to the Wrangler steak house on Hwy 6 and talked about how much we love this small town.

What are your high school homecoming memories?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Friday night at the fairgrounds

My sweetie and I went to the Bubba Can Barbecue Cook-off at the Navasota Fairgrounds Friday night. Our friend Mitch invited us. A big karaoke contest was the centerpiece of the entertainment. Eighteen contestants were vying for a $1,000 first prize, and Mitch was one of the judges.

Woodsmoke perfumed with chicken, pork, and beef cooking in barrel drums, slathered with secret sauces and rubs, filled our nostrils as we entered the fairgrounds. Campers converted to cookhouses bordered the covered pavilion. We sampled the ribs and found seats on the aluminum stadium bleachers. The stage, bathed in neon violet light, was at the opposite end of the dirt arena. Kids were running wild, kicking up dust like tumbleweeds. The smallest among them swirled with their arms spread like desert dervishes. Their skin shimmered in the neon glow.

Next to the beer concession, a local vendor sold  girly baseball caps encrusted with sparkling glass crystals,  trays of costume jewelry, blinged out cigarette holders, and purses with compartments for concealed handguns. Business was steady.

The karaoke choices ran the gamut, from traditional western swing to the downtown blues to old time rock 'n roll. Supporters punched the air with their fists and whooped and hollered. Dozens of couples danced in the dirt in front of the stage. The contestants seemed to love the convivial merrymaking. We sure did, and we joined in.

The men were dressed in jeans, sleeveless western shirts or cotton t-shirts, and boots, their heads covered with straw cowboy hats or billed caps; western tooled holsters filled with cell phones hung from their leather belts. Their partners were dressed in blue-jean cut-offs and colorful tops with spaghetti straps. They were long-haired and long-legged, swinging and swaying in step with the music.

My sweetie got in a discussion about Harley motorcycles overheating in traffic with Mark, the husband of one of the barbecue cook-off contenders. Ronnie told Mark about the numerous times we had to pull over on the side of the road in Houston because the Harley trike overheated and stalled out.  The last time was in 100-plus degree heat, and we thought we were going to die of heat stroke. Shortly thereafter, we surrendered that trike for a water-cooled Honda Goldwing trike.

Mark shrugged. "I dunno, man. I have a Harley now and I gotta say, it runs great. No trouble at all."
Ronnie was sure the man was joking. "Really??? Not even in traffic?" The man smiled. "Man, I live in the country and I work in Navasota. What traffic?"

Point well made.

One of the benefits of small town living is the absolute lack of traffic jams, (except for the bumper-to-bumper lines at the railroad crossings that dissect the town). Ron and I feel like hamsters on a wheel in Houston. It's nice to enjoy a cool night at the Navasota Fairgrounds and be reminded that we are lucky enough to have an escape plan from the city.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


When I was younger, I collected lots of wonderful treasures, including dolls and picture books. My father started me with my first collection: stamps.  I never was particularly interested in that hobby, but I was very interested in being the center of my daddy’s attention, so I took the stamps he brought me and dutifully placed them into the binders. Lord only knows where those collections are now…

When I was a little older, I became a tomboy, which was only natural since I was the middle child born between two boys. I collected scrapes and bruises from following them over fences and through blackberry bushes or by following the culverts and tunnels that guided the Town Creek from Sam Houston's home and museum and our house. I also collected a toughness that comes from playing firecracker shootouts and having an occasional firework explode in my hand rather than in the air flying toward a brother’s head.

As I entered my teens, I collected lots of personas along with fitting names, trying to find the right fit for the individual I would become. My cousin and I gave each other sassy names to fit the images we had of becoming saucy women someday. I was Kitten; she, Bubbles. My older brother Stone’s friends named my younger brother Pebble and named me Rox.  We felt very cool among our friends who had no siblings and were faceless to the older crowd.  My friends had fun giving me derivatives of my given name Joyce: I was called Jerse, Joycie, Juice, and Jice. Because I was named after my mother, my daddy kept trying to get me to adopt the name Junior, but I was  past my tomboy days and had no desire to be known as Junior.

I collected my first boyfriend at sixteen, and my favorite name, Baby, came out of his mouth in that easy Southern drawl of his, pronounced, “Baay-be.”  Occasionally I was known by another “b” name for my cattiness, especially when it came to trashing some other girl’s reputation because she didn’t fit the standard I had set for teens outside my clique. Shame on me.

During my young adult years, I collected college degrees and years of experience in classrooms as both a student and as a teacher. I found that the best way to become an expert in anything was to teach the subject. As a result, I became an expert in college marketing and collected a slew of awards and plaques from state and national organizations while I climbed the ladder in administration and made a reputation for myself. For about a decade, I was one of go-to women in the Texas community college movement. I also collected two sets of divorce papers.

At mid-life I collected illnesses and maladies: fibroid tumors, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, diabetes… but thankfully, I also had a collection of friends who would not let me give up, lie down, or step off the path but, rather, to move on to the next collection, which is the greatest one of all—the collection of memories.

I may be battered, but I’m far from through!