Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ronnie got a haircut

Isn’t it amazing how a haircut can make such a startling impression? Ronnie got a haircut Saturday, and the change is profound.
Ever since I’ve known him, Ronnie has worn his silver gray hair long and shaggy. You know the look: Vietnam vet, aging hippie, outlaw biker. It’s a fashion statement embraced by a lot of men in their sixties. They’re retired, so they no longer have to adhere to the dress code of whatever profession they had. As for Ronnie, he was in law enforcement and then worked in the IT division for an international oil and gas company. In fact, he still consults for a chemical lab that a friend owns, but he works from home where his dress code doesn’t even require him to comb his hair unless he’s going to the store.
Some men, when they get older, revert to their military days and get “high and tight” haircuts. But I think that’s because their hair is thinning. Ronnie has a head full of gorgeous silver streaked hair, the kind women pay several hundred dollars to get at a salon.
Some men shave their heads because they’re losing it anyway and they don’t want those 1950s “dome heads” their fathers had (where they’re bald on top and fringed around the sides) or, even worse, sporting those god-awful “comb-overs.”
Ronnie did shave his head once when he was in his early thirties, but it was because he’d grown a ponytail and his wife and mother were both after him to cut his hippie hair. I’ve seen pictures, and trust me, they are not pretty. Maybe that’s why I’ve been nervous about talking him into a haircut. I didn’t want him to revolt.
Yesterday, after lunch at the Filling Station Café & Diner, we asked our friend Mitch if he could recommend a place here in Navasota. He did, and we hustled over to Madison’s Avenue across from Brookshire Bros. grocery store. I thought I’d ask the stylist to cut about four inches off and he would end up with an “elder statesman” haircut, reminiscent of Lyndon B. Johnson.
But Ronnie decided he wanted to go short. Uh-oh. Had I pushed him too hard?
I turned him over to Lyssa Minor and her scissors and prayed for the best.
The result was a spectacular executive or business style haircut. Instead of looking like a badass biker, he looks respectable, clean cut, and serious-minded (except for the mischievous light that is always flickering in his brown eyes).
In other words, he looks ever so handsome. I think I’ll take him to Brenham for dinner and show him off.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Grief and gratitude

Pradeep Lele, my friend and colleague of seventeen years, has died. His memorial service is Thursday, and the Lone Star College family will gather to pay tribute to his significant contribution to our lives, both professionally and personally.

Pradeep was one of the magnificent reference librarians LSC-North Harris has, who teach research techniques to our students. He did so with the patience of Job and the humor of Jonathan Winters. The reference librarians also prepare research guides for instructional assignments. He prepared a meticulous guide on the Veterans History Project for my freshmen English class (see blogpost 10/26/14 to learn more about this oral history project). His carefully prepared guide provided students with media and print references for each of the wars and military conflicts American veterans have fought in, from World War I to Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. The guide helped students have a schematic for interviewing veterans.

The research guide Pradeep prepared for my class is one of many he prepared in collaboration with faculty. Next year, there will be another group of students who will use his guide as part of their preparation to interview veterans. His guide will stand as one of the tributes to this man's gift for research and love for his profession.

"Grief and gratitude are kindred souls," writes Patricia Campbell Carlson, "each pointing to the beauty of what is transient and given to us by grace." I am feeling both grief and gratitude today as I mourn my friend. Grief over losing such a kind, intelligent, caring colleague, and gratitude for having known him.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Spring is in the air

Sunshine finally burned through the overcast sky today. I feel Spring pushing through this stubborn winter. It's been a tough winter for us. In the past I've always said winter in Texas is never more than a few days of freezing weather and then the sun comes out and warm us up. But this year it seems the opposite was true--every time the sun showed her face for more than a couple of days, Canada sent down an an icy blast to frost our bones. I'm glad the seasons are finally changing.

The doves that made a nest in the overhanging eaves in the roof of the back porch have returned to build another nest. Or are they are the offspring that burst from those tiny eggs last spring and sat in that nest for two weeks until they were strong enough to take flight? Ronnie and I aren't sure. We aren't ornithologists, but we sure are excited to see the nest of twigs and pine needles.

I've read that doves will abandon their nests if they feel threatened, and this nest is on the porch where the dogs sleep. What's up with that? I think the doves know the dogs will keep the neighborhood cats away as well as the squirrels living in the pecan trees that shade our home.

The red bud tree in the back yard is in full bloom, and the daffodils are beginning to appear in pretty bunches. Hopefully Jackson won't dig them up.

My friend Wynell drove up from Houston yesterday, and we went to College Station to do a little shopping. Indian paintbrushes, bluebonnets, and sunflowers dotted the roadside. They will blanket the pastures by Easter.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Splash Day 1962

Spring is late this year. This morning is cold and wet, but memories of a warm, sun-filled springtime fifty-three years ago gather in my mind.

1962. I was sixteen, a sophomore in high school, and going steady with Jimmy Scott. The movie "Where the Boys Are" had been a box office hit the summer before, exalting Ft. Lauderdale's annual beach party to mythic proportions. My girlfriends Patsy Ferguson, Sandy and Bev Toney, and I decided since we couldn't go to Florida, we wanted to go to Splash Day weekend in Galveston, and we talked Jimmy into taking us. We'd only go for Saturday, but we needed to leave before sunrise so we could soak up every single ray of sunshine on the beach.

Of course no parent would give young teenagers permission to go without chaperones to Galveston for the official opening of the beach season, so we lied our way out of town. My folks were in New York, but we told everyone else's parents that we were going to Gary Hardy's ranch for the day.

When Jimmy drove his 1956 Chevy on to Stewart Beach, we rode bumper to bumper with the party crowd. Throngs of college-age youth shuffled barefoot on the sandy beach, or jumped from vehicle to vehicle, making new friends with a bottle of Jax, the aptly named "friendship" beer (bought out by Pearl Brewing Company in 1974, but Pearl, too, closed its beer production in 2000). Once on the beach, my girlfriends and I adorned Jimmy's car hood, making him crane his neck to see out of his side window to maneuver.  Beer flowed among the crowd, no IDs required. Rock 'n roll blared from car radios on KILT (now a Country Legends station). Sea salt and Coppertone scented the air.

We paraded up and down the beach all morning long when, by some act of fate, we spied Gary B. Ashe and his best friend Randy Bailey, both high school seniors, in Gary's yellow '55 Ford convertible. (Some guys named their cars back then, and Gary called his the Tweedy Bird.)  My friend Sandy had a big crush on Gary so we abandoned Jimmy's car and hurdled the winding lanes of cars to join them. Jimmy was not happy. But then a couple of college girls took our places on Jimmy's front hood and gave him a beer. The afternoon floated by in a hazy, lazy, giddy sort of way.

The year before, literally hundreds were arrested and jailed during night-time rioting, but I don't think we knew that, and if we did, we had that adolescent immunity called "It Won't Happen to Us."  We also didn't think our parents would catch us in our lie, but...

Like every small town, Huntsville had a drive-in where teenagers congregated. Our place was the Tastee-Freeze, and as soon as we drove up, Gary Hardy told us that we'd been busted by a friend who wasn't invited to go with us to Galveston. She'd ratted us out to everyone's parents. Everyone's except mine, that is. She didn't have their New York hotel number, or I'm sure she would have called.

Because they had been sick with worry, the grownups were angry as hell.  Sandy and Bev's dad forbade them to be friends with me anymore. That lasted, maybe, a day. But I think Patsy may still be grounded.

There is no Splash Day in Galveston anymore; the Galveston convention board voted to end the tradition in 1965. They say that Catholic Bishop Byrne finally won his long time fight against the "leg show on the sea wall." But the truth is, Galveston no longer needed an event to open the summer season. That island now rocks all year long.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Texas Birthday Bash

Tomorrow is Texas Independence Day, but Navasota celebrated this weekend with its annual Texas Birthday Bash in the courtyard of the city hall. We had two days of live country music and Texas themed fun.

The bands were loud, rowdy, and down home country. We sat on one of the bales of hay scattered in front of the bandstand, but many families brought camp chairs along with wool blankets or quilts to wrap around them. Good idea--wish we'd thought to do the same.

A winter blast from the north required layered clothing. Seriously insulated jackets (the kind that are worn in deer stands or duck blinds) were favored gear for both men and women. Ronnie and I don't hunt, so we bundled up in our Harley leather motorcycle jackets. My beautiful blood-red cowboy boots were new, but the ones on the other women were scuffed and weathered. They weren't wearing their boot-scootin' dancing boots in inclement weather. I'll know better next year.

The guys sported short haircuts and full beards--no skimpy soul patches for these young men. They smoked filtered cigarettes, drank Budweiser, and bought cotton candy, funnel cake, and kettle corn for their rosy-cheeked, bright-eyed children. And when the music moved them, they punched the air with their fists and danced with their women on the hard concrete.

Marsha's Petting Zoo had the little ones squealing with delight as they toddled after the llama, sheep,  and goats. I thought how my younger brother would have joined in the reverie because he acts like he's 6 when he's around children. But Dallas was being pelted with snow and sleet this weekend, preventing Mark and his wife from joining us.

A mechanical bull also attracted youngsters from 3 to 12. The ride's operator wisely matched the bull's aggressiveness to each rider, so all the 3-year-olds had gentle rides while the 12-year-olds were spun and bucked till only the best weren't thrown to the pillow-soft padded flooring. The line was long, with older kids, determined to stay upright, jumping back in line for rematches.

For $5 each, we could have judged the chili cook-off, and we wanted to, especially since our friend Mitch cooked the meat for the entry from Brookshire Brothers grocery store. But the cook-off was over by the time we moseyed over to that side of the venue. Unlike Houston, the cook-off must end at lunchtime instead of offering competitive vittles into the evening of the event.

We met a fellow named Jim from La Grange. He came over to thank Ronnie for his service when he spotted Ronnie's Vietnam vet service cap. Jim is three days from being mustered out of the Army after serving in Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He and Ronnie talked about the movie "American Sniper." We'd seen it last week, but Jim said he might have to wait to see it in video in the privacy of his home. He fought in Fallujah, and he isn't sure what emotions might come up. Ronnie nodded in understanding and said, "I was able to watch it with no problem, but that's because it wasn't my war." They discussed the differences between Vietnam and Iraq, jungle warfare versus house-to-house urban warfare, and the differences in the way they were welcomed home. They both agreed, as crazy as it got during their tours, they'd volunteer again. These two native sons are from the bloodline of the patriots who made Texas independence possible 179 years ago. They make me Texas proud.