Monday, February 20, 2023

The Unending Heart of My Cousin, Whose Love Lives on Forever

On Monday afternoon, Feb. 13, in St. Louis, visitation was held for my cousin, Minor (it’s a family name), one of my 21 first cousins on my mother’s side of the family. The funeral was on Valentine’s Tuesday at 11 am. Rather than say “how strange to have a funeral on Valentine’s Day,” I can think of no better day than to see his life celebrated and remembered than on a day where love is shared and hearts are remembered. Minor’s heart was substantial, and his love was deep. It was just his way.

Because we all live so far apart, through the years, it was impossible to consider that we would have annual family reunions and everyone stay in touch. However, it was of great importance to my mother that I, as an only child, have a sense of “belonging to a large family.” After all, she grew up as one of eight siblings, the first five closest in age, and the others coming along during their teen years.

I was five years old when I went to St. Louis for the first Christmas at my grandparents’ home. I met five of my cousins that week, three brothers and a brother and a sister, and it was amazing to imagine that this only child was suddenly surrounded by “family.” Two years later I was back in St. Louis for the funeral of my grandfather. There were some more cousins there in addition to the ones I’d met, but frankly, it was a somber time. I now had to process a loss of a grandfather I barely knew together with meeting more people who were “my family” I barely knew.

Just as soon as I had family, it seemed I was losing them. I wasn’t ready for loss. But there was Minor, three years older than me, who sensed that I was alone out on an island of silence, wondering what was happening around me. He told me not to worry, that everything would be alright. He enlisted his next oldest brother, Donald, in joining him in teaching me how to play pool, in the basement of the family house. I found myself comforted, and lots of conversation ensued. Soon, my sorrow turned to a calm sense of “everything is going to be okay.” Minor sensed my pain and stepped up, with Donald, to keep me and their youngest brother Steve, so busy we didn’t have time to hurt. That was Minor, taking care.

The next time we were together was the death of their mother, their dad’s second wife, who had long battled a debilitating illness. We went back to St. Louis for the funeral and now I was a bit older. The boys hugged me when they saw me and somehow I found myself saying to them, “It’s going to be alright.” Minor, the oldest, was the strongest. I hurt most for them because their lives to that point had been anything but easy. From the time they were about eight years old and younger, they knew their dad was working hard at his day job and then when he came home, he cared for their mom.

Minor knew about all the medicines his mom took, helped cook, all the boys cleaned the house, and they managed to do well in school and even found time to play baseball. They stayed “out of trouble” because they knew everyone already had enough on their plates. They essentially raised themselves. As soon as Minor could mow the lawn he did. Soon, Donald was right there with him, and they started a lawnmowing business. Steve joined as soon as he was able. They worked all over the neighborhood and did well for themselves. They wanted to do something to help make a difference, realizing how hard times were.

Over the years, the brothers excelled at high school baseball, all of them. Minor attended all the games he could, and then their mother died. We went back to St. Louis, Mom and I, because that’s what you did for family. You showed up. You hugged and you cried together. My cousins were brave. My uncle’s heart was broken and it wasn’t easy, but still the brothers held it together, beautifully, because of Minor’s example. “Everything is going to be okay.” There in an act of superhuman strength, was Minor comforting his brothers, and now me. I believed him.

By the time Minor was close to finishing high school, he was offered a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a power hitter, to be sure, and although he didn’t make the cut, it’s not often a childhood dream come true to just have the chance to try out. He took the disappointment well. After all, it’s what he did. Kept it inside for reassurance for the ones who looked to him for leadership; everyone assumed without a thought that everything was going to be okay. That was Minor. He bounced back.

He was a natural at math; everything came to him so easily; in fact, all three brothers were gifted in math. Still are today. Minor moved up in his job at the bank, from teller to eventually working in the vault. Eventually he signed up to enter the U.S. Navy. His dad had entered the Navy during wartime of WWII, and while a wartime experience was anything but easy for his dad, perhaps he had always wanted to travel and the Navy was one way to see the world, or at least it was what he hoped it would be. Donald and Steve drove to Texas while I was in college for a great visit and Minor wanted to go to Florida on his vacation, so he did. He needed a chance to do something for himself than give away every last minute “for family’s sake.” I’m glad he did.

The next gathering time was when my Grandmother passed away. Does this sound familiar? The only time many families “should be close” is the only time they seem to be—during periods of loss and sorrow. I have always loved families who gather together each year for food, fellowship, and remembrances of childhood. They just pick up where they left off. Laughter usually abounds, and hugs flow freely.

The three brothers were married not long thereafter; two of them are nearing their 50th annivesaries. I was still in school but we hoped to do a better job of getting together. Occasional phone calls helped and I’ll never forget that when I finished college, the first card that came was from Minor. He wrote me a four-page letter about how proud he was of me for finishing college. He caught me up on family news and frankly, I will never forget it because I felt like I really did have family, distance notwithstanding. I still have that letter.

His wife became pregnant with their first son, Seth, during his service and sadly, it was discovered that their little one was born with cerebral palsy. The young couple bravely tried to learn what to do and how to cope with the disease and Minor did his exercises with his little one every day. Ultimately, Seth only lived two years. Minor was devastated beyond any other passing in his life before. The grief had been building for years, no doubt. But who’s to say? I’m no professional. He received a medical discharge from the Navy and then set about trying to find life after when all his plans were crushed.

Minor and Debi gave birth to another son, Sean Michael, a few years later, and as soon as he could comprehend it, he knew he had an older brother but one who was no longer here on earth, a fairly daunting fact to process when you’re a little guy, but he followed the tradition of appearing stoic. When Minor and Debi divorced, times were not easy, but Minor was comfortable being a dad with his buddy Sean, but he was not quick to discipline him at first, as he loved him so much. He just didn’t want to lose him.

When Sean was four, Minor drove them down to “Texas” to see Aunt Marguerite and Dawn. Into the room walks this little towheaded blonde with the buzz cut, his steely blue eyes surveying his surroundings and wondering who Aunt Marguerite was and why Minor loved her. Mom assessed the little fellow’s disposition toward mischief and waited to see how things played out. Sean was brilliant and Minor was so proud. He kept addressing him as “Dad Junior,” because he’d always heard his mom refer to him as “Junior,” the family nickname for the eldest and namesake of their dad.

Mom decided he needed to show his dad more respect, and let him know that he should address his father as “Dad,” although it took a day or two for him to even think about whether he was going to. Meanwhile, Sean presented with a list of things he did and didn’t like about Houston. Most of all, he didn’t like being told what to do. We took them to some of the outdoor Houston attractions and restaurants, Minor and Sean enjoyed outdoor Houston life and it wasn’t long before Sean called Minor “Dad,” just Dad. Progress!

It was to be Easter weekend, so Mom and Minor took Sean shopping for some new Spring and Summer clothes. The “boys” looked dapper in their new outfits and Minor was proud of how Sean was growing up. Sean’s Mom had gotten him a contemporary haircut—a buzz cut, but he had a small rat tail at the back of his neck, gently indicating we might just have a tad of a rebel in the making.

At bathtime, we’d gotten Sean some Mr. Bubble bubblebath and a cool Mr. Bubble shampoo…he was patient as Minor and Mom were about to shampoo his head but he blurted out, “I don’t want any of that stuff on my head,” and both of them burst out laughing. His candor and self-awareness was refreshing. We took them to Dos Pesos CafĂ© for an authentic Mexican meal. Sean really liked the queso but when he reached for the salsa to try it, after one bite of the spicy stuff said, very loudly, “Yuck, I hate that stuff.” We laughed and quickly forgot about it as he returned to his queso.

Easter Sunday came and the four of us went to my Episcopal church in Galleria where I’d been living. On the drive over we prepared Sean for the process of communion where he would go up to the railing with us and cross his arms as he knelt at the altar and the priest would give him a blessing by placing his hand on his head as he went down the row.

Minor reminded him of what Aunt Marguerite had said right before we exited our pew to make the way to the front and Sean folded his little hands and approached the altar. Somewhere between seeing the adults around him open their hands and place them palms up as the priest and the communion assistant approached, the plan changed. Sean was kneeling at the altar, between his dad and my Mom, and I was to the right of my Mom. I saw what was coming, but it seemed to play out in slow motion. As I extended my hands palm forward and received the communion wafer, then Mom did, and then…Sean unfolded his hands and the communion assistant placed a wafer into Sean’s hands. Uh oh!

Taking his cue from seeing us place the wafers in our mouths, Sean followed suit. Apparently he didn’t like the taste. I saw the look come over his face and I knew what was about to follow. He said (loudly), “Yuck, I hate thaa-at!” and just as soon as that happened, both Mom and Minor clamped their free hands over Sean’s mouth as they saw the priest gently rocking from laughter (apparently he had grandchildren).

After the chalice went down the row, and we exited back to the congregation, I happened to notice two men standing near the wall, wearing trenchcoats, in mid spring. They had quiet smiles on their faces and seemed amused…remembering that this, too, was the home church of our 41st U.S. President and his family and as it was Easter, they were back in town and the trenchcoats were being worn by the Secret Service.

My eyes scanned that row as I made my way back to my seat and I saw the President and his wife smiling broadly, in a most understanding fashion. They had grandchildren, too, and could empathize. We were all relieved to make our way back to anonymity in the pews. Until this day, Sean never knew who else was there in church with us. So far, it has been my favorite Easter memory.

Little Sean grew up into a little guy playing t-ball and soccer and moved into other sports, and Minor was able to watch him, proudly. Yet, Sean's life was anything but easy; growing up these days is a challenge on its own, much less considering extraneous factors. He was born into a family that was strong on love but short on health. Minor lost his own Mom pretty early in his life and then as Sean was growing up, he saw his own Dad acting as a caregiver to his grandfather.

After Minor Sr. passed away, the family collected again together in grief to pay final respects for the loss of a beloved father and grandfather. Still, Sean was too young to know how to process loss, but he’d certainly sustained enough to last a lifetime. Sorrow just seemed to be in the air and seeing his own dad go through different emotions at different times could not have been easy. Both of them tried but they both had a touch of stubborness in them that made them almost identical in that fashion.

After the loss of his dad, Minor Jr. drove Sean back to Texas. This time they seemed to be doing really well together, and Sean spoke respectfully to his Dad. This time I was in College Station and working on campus. I took him to work with me one morning and my Dean came down the hall. I wasn’t sure “which” Sean would show up that day. But of course. My Dean extended his hand to Sean when I introduced them and Sean wasn’t having any of it. He didn’t shake his hand nor speak. I said, “Sean, the Dean spoke to you. Say “It’s nice to meet you, too.” Sean looked at me, clenched his lips together, folded his arms and shook his head “no.” I shook my head too and said, “Sorry, boss, he didn’t come with an instruction manual.”

The Dean laughed and said “No worries, I’m one of 7 and we all have grandkids. It’s just a phase.” Before I was ready to lecture him, my office colleague, Portia, walked up and saved the day. She said, “Cowabunga” as she stared at him. He stared back, unfolded his arms and said, “Cowabunga, Dude” as he gave her a high five. Befuddled, I looked at Portia as she explained to the Dean and me, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I speak Kid.” Laughter followed.

And before I could ask who they were (remember a day before Google existed?), he listed all four of them for me, expecting that I would commit their names to memory. Yes, Sean, I still remember them. Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael--the Renaissance artists). The info came in handy 30 years later when I was in a discussion with my own adoptive grandson, age 6. I've had to learn a lot more superhero names these past years but one never relinquishes the joy of being taught by someone under the age of 12.

Another memory was taking Minor to a Texas Aggie baseball game, which I thought he’d love. He did. The tickets I’d been gifted found us seated next to my boss, Ken, who was a retired Air Force Colonel. He and Minor began discussing the game and I heard Ken ask him where he lived and what he did. He said, “I’m from St. Louis and I’m a Disabled American Veteran.” Ken, in a heavenly moment, knew exactly what to say, “God bless you, Son, and thank you for your service.” Minor smiled and they shook hands. I hid my tears that day.

Minor, the invincible, the hero, the cape-wearing strength of the family had no difficulty identifying with a medical condition that rendered him “disabled.” Life, illness, loss, sorrow, and grief had overtaken his fresh, sharp mind and he needed others to make the big decisions for him in life. He accepted the help and guidance of his younger brothers and sisters-in-law as graciously as one could expect.

For the past 30 years, Minor has lived geographically between the two brothers, in his own home, because crowded living communities didn’t give him a choice of when or if he could be alone, which was vital to his peace of mind at times. He was included in all the family activities and celebrations, and he also really enjoyed hosting high school friends and family at backyard BBQs. He'd call to tell me he'd cleaned his house thoroughly and Steve and Brenda had taken him grocery shopping to entertain and stocked the place with burgers, chips, sodas, and beer.

Those times made it possible for cousins to visit and stay close and he was good at mowing his own yard in the rural part of the city he lived in. Baseball season (the Cardinals) was always eagerly anticipated. Donald and Becky had him over to their home frequently and the brothers were happiest when all three of them were together. The devotion the three of them shared all of their lives is indescribable and it is a more powerful bond than any other I've seen to compare. They loved being with their older sister and family from Minor's first marriage when times presented the gatherings.

Six years ago, one of my precious “boys” who’d grown up across the street from me graduated from high school and enlisted in the Navy with a six-month wait before deployment. He was going out on his own to see the world and find his place in it. I wanted to give him a gift but what? Then it came to me. Minor had enlisted in the Navy, yes many years ago. I called Minor and asked him if he wouldn’t mind writing my neighbor about what it was like for him, one of three brothers in the house (also with an older sister) who broke away to find a path.

He started writing the minute we hung up the phone and within three days I had a thick envelope with a magnificent handwritten note for my new sailor. He did a beautiful job of writing an honest, informative, and solid explanation of enlisted life. Minor was telling my young neighbor that, in essence, everything would be alright. But, of course. He’d been comforting all of us all of our lives. Minor was the strong one, the one everyone looked to for answers, even after you might think he didn’t have any left to give. He did.

Every family faces difficulties and challenges. Most of them happen with no one writing about them because frankly, it’s a personal battle and everyone does the best they can. The only way I know how to process my personal grief is to write and to tell the story of a life well lived, and then I find peace. Yet, it’s hard for me to see this as the end of Minor’s life. Today is his birthday and he died two weeks shy of his 69th birthday.

Yes, it's an ending. But, it’s really the beginning of his newly restored mind, body, and spirit. Today he’s reunited with his mother and father, and with his first son, Seth, that he’d waited so many years to see. He lived long enough to see his son, Sean, grown up with a son of his own, a fine young man whom any Dad could be proud of.

What he has that is the greatest treasure was a lifetime of knowing his Dad, as best as anyone could, as a loving, caring, devoted father. Not every day could he say “yes” to everything Sean wanted, but when he said, “no,” he did what he knew to be in his best interests. Sean is not alone in this world. He has loving uncles, cousins, and “family” galore, but most of all, he has the best of his father in him. His heart is his best gift.

Minor lived long enough to watch his son, Sean, grow up and find his way around love, and to have a son in his own life--a young lookalike named Dylan, whose presence in their lives assured the continuation of his father’s line, two generations past ours, joining the three other sons and daughters who are his cousins.

My aunt was sweet enough to send pictures of the graveside military honors that were held for Minor:

Sean accepted the flag folded by representatives of the military with dignity and respect. All at once he understood what all those years ago what he couldn’t…the honor of serving your country without expectation of anything in return.

Another cousin gifted me with a picture of two generations of “the boys” on Minor’s immediate family’s side. Not all of them were together, of course, but there was a strong contingency.

Going forward, Sean will never feel a day in the future where he feels alone, because there will always be someone in his family nearby to him. He will work hard to preserve the family “ties” and he will remember that he is, and was, forever loved.

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Burt Bacharach Always Gave Us His Best

If I asked you to “Name a Burt Bacharach Song,” there’s no doubt in my mind that you could come up with one immediately, whether you first learned of his work in the 1950s or three more decades beyond. News of his passing at the age of 94 just broke hours ago on the American Songwriter blog.

There’s no question that a Bacharach composition is going to be a theme of love—whether love won, love lost, searching for love, or giving up on love…Burt WAS love, or at least one of its best emissaries. What do you do when you can’t find the right words to put in a heartfelt wish on a blank card, or how do you tell someone that you’re going to recover from the hole in your heart that you’re feeling now? A Bacharach song is always a good idea. He had one for everyone.

[Photo: Milan Italy 26/10/2008, live concert of Burt Bacharach at the Arcimboldi Theater. Used with permission]

As he is best remembered, a YouTube creator was kind enough to compile a “Barbra Sings Burt Bacharach-Hal David Songbook,” so click and let it play and walk back in time to your childhood, all you Baby Boomers, and some of his best work is there.

On this next YouTube, “What’s New Pussycat?” (Tom Jones) and Alfie (Cilla Black and Dionne Warwick),” as only Barbra Streisand can deliver them reminds you immediately of who they were the big hits for: “Close to You” (The Carpenters), “One Less Bell To Answer” (Fifth Dimension) and more.

Think of singer Dionne Warwick and you can immediately call to mind, “Walk on By,” “I Say a Little Prayer (for you),” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” and “What Do You Get When You Fall in Love?” Then you’d also call to mind the name Hal David, Burt’s most prolific co-writer over the years. Together they were the dynamic duo.

Beyond writing, though, you could always find that Burt could sing his own songs and compel your heart to heal as anyone who might have shared his work on their own record labels. But when others brought them to life, there’s no denying what the difference is between catchy tune and solid gold. Take for example, “Arthur’s Theme,” the theme song for the Dudley Moore movie, “Arthur.” Four writers are credited: Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross, and Peter Allen (not necessarily in that order).

Yet, how do you share credit? Who writes what in that situation? As the story goes, it was Peter Allen who came up with “When you get caught between the moon and New York City” (he was on a plane "stuck in a holding pattern" at New York's JFK Airport). That phrase was the hitmaker because simply “made the song.” However the collaboration, it’s Christopher Cross’ voice and all the lyrics and the complete melody and arrangement that had people all singing about the moon, New York City, and “the best that you can do is fall in love.” And it certainly helped box office ticket sales to be sure.

“On My Own” sounded “sweet” when Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach were sharing it, here, but according to Songfacts, they’d promised it to Patti LaBelle, who loved the song. but when the rich sound of Michael McDonald came shining through, together with Dionne Warwick, it simply MADE the song. That’s what incredible songwriters can do…they are the “assist” to the slam dunk of a golden hit that the song stylist can take from memorable to unforgettable.

While Burt was married to Carole Bayer Sager for nine years, their compositions together were heartfelt gold. From that pairing one special gem was, “That’s What Friends Are For,” which brought the collaboration of Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, and Sir Elton John.

Burt said it all for so many when nothing less would do. His memory, and his music, live on forever, thank goodness, and thank you God, for Burt Bacharach.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Memories of an Aggie Original–The Legendary Harry J. Green, Jr. '52

On April 16, 1930, Harry Joyce Green, Jr. was born in San Antonio, Texas, to parents Cecilia M. and Harry J. Green, Sr. Harry grew up in Houston, Texas, and graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in 1948.

Proficient in track and field, Harry earned an athletic scholarship to Texas A&M College, where he was part of Company B. He lived in Hart Hall and ran track for A&M in the Southwest Conference. When the Korean War broke out in summer 1950, Harry left A&M and enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he served for four years. Upon receiving his honorable discharge in March 1955, he returned to Texas A&M to complete his Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Education in 1957.

After graduation he returned to Houston and reconnected with old friends when he joined the Houston Aggie Club. Harry served as a Co-Class Agent for the Class of 1952 for many years.

His first job was with Browning Ferris, the waste management company, and his Aggie training found him moving up the company quickly as a safety engineer. Ultimately he struck out on his own and bought a Honda motorcycle dealership.

Because of his visibility in Houston, Harry was the perfect candidate to be chosen by Buck Weirus as the first Field Director for the Association of Former Students, whose growth potential would require greater statewide participation among fellow alumni. Equipped with a company car and persuasive speaking skills, Harry Green quickly became the one Aggie who basically knew every other Aggie in the state.

When he spoke, Harry commanded attention as he enthusiastically shared exciting news and updates on how great Texas A&M University was becoming, as it entered a new era where nonmilitary students and women entered the Aggie family. “Joining the Aggie Club and supporting A&M through endowed scholarships was one of the best ways to help our school,” he said, as he traveled up and down the highways and back roads of Texas every day.”

Meanwhile back at the office, one of the Aggie Club employees that Harry would be able to count on was a lovely woman named Nelda. She and Harry were kindred spirits who were meant to find one another. Working together daily, their mutual respect and indefatigable work ethics as both were devoted to Texas A&M eventually developed into devotion towards each other as best friends. Nelda once shared that they were having dinner one evening, when the subject got around to marriage. Posed with Harry’s question, “What are your thoughts on marriage?” Nelda replied, “I think people should marry their best friends,” to which Harry, without missing a beat said, “I fully agree, will you marry me?” Her answer of course was “Yes,” and the two were married in 1980.

Anywhere in town there was an Aggie function, you never saw one without the other. They rarely addressed each other by name. It was always Harry saying, “Dearest, are you ready to go?” and she’d said, “Yes, love.” Always. Whenever she was speaking of Harry to another, she would talk about “Harry J” in a soft, caring tone that revealed her devotion to her “knight in shining armor.” Most often when he spoke of her to others, he referred to her as "my bride." They were blessed with 37 years of joy until Nelda’s passing in October 2017.

They traveled the road together those decades, as Aggie clubs vied for Harry to be “their” Muster speaker each year, and the asks for “next year” went out just as soon as the current year’s Muster concluded. His ability to show people what a difference they could make in the permanently endowed athletic scholarship program was his gift. His name is synonymous with the moniker the Aggie Club, as he became its Executive Director in 1979. The organization had modest beginnings from its start in 1950. A 2012 interview in the 12th Man Magazine noted that in 1975 there were approximately 1200 members with revenues about $275,000. By the time Harry retired in 1992, the newly renamed 12th Man Foundation had 6,500 members and millions in revenues.

Harry preferred modesty, forever boosting his classmates and fellow Aggies for accolades rather than accepting credit, but he should be remembered as the one who broke fundraising records for Texas A&M athletics, for his graceful behind-the-scenes introduction of future friends of a lifetime to each other, for encouraging young men to become their best selves, and to remember forever that Aggies always help Aggies whenever they can. He had equal, welcome access to CEOs and Aggie retirees who were working as security guards in chemical plants. He knew the name of every ticket taker and custodian in all of the athletic facilities on campus and was greeted warmly by all. Everyone loved Harry.

One of the most beloved “newer” traditions at Aggie football games is the 12th Man towel. In 1985, two leaders in the 12th Man Student Aggie Club went to Harry as Executive Director of the 12th Man Foundation and Jackie Sherrill, then TAMU Athletic Director and head football coach, who gave their approval and the towel debuted in the first home game of the 1985 season. By the time TAMU beat UT in the final home game, Kyle Field was ensconced in a sea of white. It took the approval of Ol’ Army to help make possible a beloved new tradition.

Harry’s devotion to his Aggies never waned. Even though the past 12 months were filled with health challenges, Harry’s extended family made sure he attended every home game in the 2021 season and even one home game this year, which meant the world to him.

Not one to take retirement seriously, Harry accepted his friend Don Adam’s offer to serve as his Executive Vice President and Director of Marketing for First American Bank of Bryan, which grew quickly in the institution’s market share, thanks to Harry’s unparalleled enthusiasm and marketing talents. Everyone loved Harry.

Harry was a 32nd degree Mason and very active in fundraising, first in Houston and then locally. He was dedicated to the mission of the Shriners International Children’s Hospital in Houston for many years before its relocation to Galveston.

He was a vital part of the College Station Noon Lions Club locally.Asked one day how it was he was so successful in the Lions’ trademark project, selling light bulbs to friends and coworkers, Harry explained his pitch. “Well, I took all the light bulb boxes they gave me to sell into the bank one evening after work and I had attached a little note to each coworker that read, ‘Thank you for your support of the College Station Noon Lions Club annual light bulb fundraiser. The amount due is $X and you can bring a check or cash to me by the end of this week at your convenience.” When his coworkers finished laughing, they all put their checks in envelopes on Harry’s desk by week’s end.

In the community, Harry and Nelda supported the American Heart Association, and they served the American Cancer Society's Cattle Baron's Ball for several years, even serving as co-chairs for the Ball one year. [Photo below: Alice and Dick Hickerson and Nelda and Harry Green].

Together, Harry and Nelda were members of the Texas A&M Association of Former Students Endowed Century Club for their philanthropy through the years. Harry continued his service to A&M as a past-president (2012–2013) of the Sul Ross Group of Aggies, who celebrate the passing of at least 55 years since graduation with an annual reunion in College Station.

As the six core values of Texas A&M are identified present day as respect, excellence, loyalty, leadership, integrity, and selfless service (RELLIS), the Core Values Coin was introduced in 2013 by the Association of Former Students “to recognize Aggies who live and reflect the core values of Texas A&M.” Since their inception, only 148 coins have been presented. In the program’s second year, Harry was one of six past presidents of the Sul Ross Group to receive a Core Values Coin. Fifteen of the 148 coins were placed on the graves of Aggies killed in World War II and buried at the Normandy American Cemetery in France.

In the community, Harry and Nelda were faithful members of First Presbyterian Church in Bryan, and always signed up to be greeters for a month each year, an activity they took seriously. Each week they recognized newcomers and welcomed returning visitors and introduced them to other longtime members there, which resulted in many new church members joining because they felt at home. To be recognized, remembered, and regarded—that was the “Harry J.” way.

New athletics coaches, of any sport, were sure to meet Harry and Nelda during their first week here, as they would take them to dinner and learn what was important to new families and coaches relocating to BCS. They made it a point to connect them with others of matching interests to make their assimilation easier. They never sought credit or acknowledgment for what they did. It was simply who they were, two Aggie angels with hearts of gold.

Visitation for Harry will be from 11am–1pm at Callaway-Jones Funeral Center in Bryan on Thursday, December 15. A guestbook is available Tuesday for those wishing to sign early. Following a private burial ceremony, a memorial service will be held on Friday, December 16, at First Presbyterian Church in Bryan, with the Rev. Ted Foote presiding.

Harry was preceded in death by his parents, his sister, Dorothy Green Lovelace, and his beloved wife, Nelda. He is survived by niece Margaret Lovelace Brooks and husband Karl, and their sons, Tom Booker and Mike Booker.

Harry is also survived by Nelda’s loving family, nephews, Tracey Smith and Travis Smith, great-niece Chelsea Jones and husband Cody, and their son Rowen Michael Jones; and great-nephews Austin Smith and Wyatt Smith, as well as a host of Aggies to whom Harry and Nelda were indeed considered “extended family.” [Photo: Cody and Chelsea Jones, Nelda and Harry Green].

From that extended family, serving as pallbearers are Jim Peterson, Bill Carter, Steve Stevens, Arno Krebs, Arnold Hayes, Kyle Lednicky, Tom Kennerly, and Kent Caperton. Honorary pallbearers are Don Adam, John Sharp, Kyle Lewie, Bookman Peters, Dick Hickerson, James Connor Smith, Dick Witherite, Otway Denny, Ron Lueck, Bill Housman, Karl Brooks, Tim Booker, Mike Booker, and all Past-Presidents of the 12th Man Foundation.

In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Texas A&M Foundation, 12th Man Foundation, or the charity of choice.

Today, Harry and his Nelda are reunited in Heaven, and undoubtedly there are legions of Aggies standing in long lines to welcome him home. The strains of “The Spirit of Aggieland” should be wafting through the clouds. This coming April 21st, for Muster 2023, when the name of Harry Joyce Green, Jr. ’52 is announced, the response “HERE” is sure to reverberate throughout Reed Arena. And so it is that Harry J. Green, Jr. ’52 is home at last.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

20 Years Later Mary Lynne Stratta Still Bryan's Best

"It was 20 years ago today Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play..." and it was also 20 years ago today that Mary Lynne Stratta was Bubba Moore's cover girl for his TV Facts magazine. The weekly publication was co-owned by Mike Newton at the time and while Bubba was valiantly battling health challenges. He allowed me, his cub reporter, to write about whatever struck a chord with our community that week. So, the occasion of our very own Bryan City Secretary Mary Lynn Stratta and her fantastic, unparalleled team brought Texas honor to Bryan.

This photo with former city manager Mary Kaye Moore and former Bryan Mayor Jay Don Watson was taken during the City Council meeting at which Stratta was recognized for her then current achievement.

The reason for this month's cover girl was Mary Lynne's being named 2002 Secretary of the Year by the Capitol Chapter of the Texas Municipal Clerks Association. That particular award was the fourth time she'd won it in a decade. Anyone who has worked with her knows of her attention to detail, ability to organize projects for 50 to 500, and most of all, we the public receive VIP status as she always makes time for citizens who come into the office in need of records and documents. It's a large operation to be sure, and if you've just checked out the lines of traffic backed up all around Bryan and College Station, it's clear we're no longer a small little Texas based college town and a sleepy, gentle community just five miles down the road.

Decades ago when I moved here, Bryan was generally always perceived, by those entering College Station, as a quiet, residential community where professors lived. Not so today. Bryan is bigtime now. We have the amazing Travis Bryan Park and the new Big Shots Golf and Entertainment Center, complete with live music each week. Downtown Bryan and First Fridays have taken on fresh, enhanced bold identities and flourished over the past five years, all with the enthusiastic support of an always contemporary city staff. The Brazos Valley continues to grow and grow as both towns offer growth and excitement to offer residents.

Although many elected officials come in for fixed periods of time, make their contributions and/or imprints on the cities they were elected to lead, and then move on, look to your longterm city and county and Brazos Valley staff and say thank you, for always being there.

Happy Throwback Thursday! And think of Bubba today, and smile. He was a one-of-a-kind friend to our community, to be sure!

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Tony Dow, America’s Favorite Big Brother, Leaves Home at Age 77

It was stunning news that Phlash Phelps just shared on his radio show this morning before his shift ended—actor, sculptor, creative Tony Dow died today at the age of 77, in Hollywood. Yet another loss in our lives to process for one we knew well, even if we’d never met.

In the late 1950s and early 60s, it seemed that any Baby Boomer grew up with and knew the story of the Cleavers, the perfect family in the mythical town of Mayfield. Father Ward, Mother June, sons Wally and Theodore (the Beav) came into our homes each week and taught us something important about family dynamics with each script.

Although just characters created by Joe Connelly, Bob Mosher, and Dick Conway, writers you never saw or met, the Cleaver family represented the best of what normal family life could be with father, mother, two-story home, white picket fence, occasional dog, buddies from school, and various folks in town who had lessons to impart to the young ones, consistently, within 234 scripts.[Photo: IMDB]

Of all their characters though, Tony Dow brought some special to brother Wally that showed firsthand what kindness to a little brother can bring. It wasn’t always offered at first thought or without a tad of resentment at times (little brothers can be pests), but Wally’s perfect hair and blue eyes as he aged from 12 to 17 during the show’s run kept young girls watching, if only it was to see him comb his hair, which he did each episode. [Photo: Trakt.TV]

It's safe to say that this show might have caused permanent typecasting for all four actors, but Tony worked steadily in television series from 1963, when “Beaver” ended, all the way through 2016. He had roles on “Diagnosis Murder,” “Murder She Wrote,” “The New Mike Hammer,” “Dr. Kildare,” “Mod Squad,” “Knight Rider,” “The Hardy Boys,” and everyone’s favorite, “The Love Boat.” He also reprised his role as Wally in several “Leave it to Beaver” TV movies and series.

Forever, though, the ensemble would be the Cleavers to us. Tony, went on to have a normal teen life and graduated from Van Nuys High School, and then went on to study at the Defense Information School, in the U.S. Department of Defense. Many journalists and professional communicators as well as popular DJs and news anchors attended this school as well.

As a talented sculptor and artist, his work garnered much attention and interest. His work is currently featured at the Bilotta Gallery and consists of bronze sculptures that average $4,000 each. An example is his 22-inch “Hand balancer.”

His passing was not entirely unanticipated. In May this year, he and his wife, Lauren Shulkind posted a message on his Facebook page:

Dear Friends & Fans of Tony Dow, I have some very sad news to share with you. Unfortunately, Tony has once again been diagnosed with cancer. He is approaching this reality so bravely, but it is truly heartbreaking.

NBC affiliate WLBT noted, as of that afternoon, his Facebook post marked over 14,000 comments and 2,000+ shares.

Even if anticipated, today is important because we all lost a family member. Whether or not you agree, he was a permanent part of Americana, of a generation of teens and young adults who would be on the edge of technology, and who would face new challenges brought about by decisions made by those in charge, and would have to respond accordingly. [Photo: Pinterest]

One thing is for sure. While June was forever saying, “Ward, I’m worried about the Beaver,” no one ever had to say they were worried for Wally. He always knew what to do. Godspeed, Tony, and thanks for being a very happy part of our childhood.  

It's poignant that two of America's favorite towns are not real, created by talented writers who inspired generations of children growing up across the country. For Wally and the Beav, it was Mayfield. For Andy, Barney, and the gang, it was Mayberry. Right about now this generation could use another bring-us-all-together sitcom, without wisecracks, double entendres, disrespect, or dumbed-down intelligence. A new town "may" need to come soon.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Joni Mitchell Surprises Newport Jazz Festival Audience and Everyone Else Who Loves Her Music

Welcome news appeared in Rolling Stone yesterday as Johnathan Bernstein's story that Joni Mitchell had returned to the stage just seven short years after experiencing an aneurysm that left her unable to speak or walk. On July 24, while most everyone was enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon somewhere, history was made at the 2022 Newport Jazz Festival. Billed only as the Coyote Jam with Brandi Carlisle as lead, the surprise of the day eclipsed the preceding day's appearance by Paul Simon.

Rick Farrell's photo in What's Up Newport captured Mitchell looking as comfortable there as she has been in her own home in recent years, as guests have dropped by for informal Joni Jams.

For the first time in 20 years, since her self-imposed retirement from live performance, she held court atop a makeshift throne as those around joined her in tribute to her genius. In fact, her own website site noted: "The last time Joni performed with guitar in hand in front of a paying audience was 8,660 days ago, on her 55th birthday."

Onstage with Mitchell, sitting in an exquisite chair, sat numerous well-known musicians from Brandi Carlisle to Wynona, some of whom consider themselves Joni's Number 1 Fan. Yet, that position is held by no one person. It is not possible, because music lovers from the late 1960s forward have embraced the willowy, fierce singer-songwriter as "theirs" for likely that title belongs only to one person, David Crosby, who really is primarily responsible for making sure the rest of us knew of her gifts and helped her career ascend into the stratosphere from a nice start (and life with Graham Nash as well).

Yet, did you ever think that 20 years later, she'd be standing in front of a live audience performing a jaw-dropping instrumental on "Just Like This Train"? Check out the YouTube posted by Dale Martin:

The audience sat spellbound as they watched Joni rise from the comfortable chair on a stage that recreated the home setting where Mitchell has been hosting gatherings of LA area faithful for a long while. These informal yet limited audience gatherings have included select friends, old and new, who'd come by to sing her songs back to her. Clearly, Joni has made phenomenal progress since suffering a brain aneurysm in March 2015. The event left her unable to speak or walk Yet, having recovered her speech, at age 76, she told a reporter for The Guardian her intentions, after she'd beaten childhood polio (as noted from in the BBC story):

"And, you know, I got my speech back quickly, but the walking I'm still struggling with. But I mean, I'm a fighter. I've got Irish blood! So you know, I knew, 'Here I go again, another battle.'" Two years later, Joni brought singer Wynonna Judd to the point of "no words" as she asked Brandi Carlisle, "When we are 78..." as if can we still be like she is? Granted, many of the performers there were starstruck as much as moved by the quiet confidence of Joni's humor that filled some of the stories she told, one of which was how she came to love "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" as a teenager. Yet, few teenagers get to take their favorite artists with them on the road, but then again there's only one Joni.

Quite possibly, Joni Mitchell means more, perhaps, to singer-songwriters themselves than to any other group of individuals who can rightfully claim one musician as "theirs." Joni's willingness to break rules, barriers, cadence, and logic with each album that she released represented "This is How It's Done When You're Not Afraid to Do It" as opposed to "This is the Way We've Always Done It" in song styling.

Thanks to we have the set list from the concert, and videos courtesy of YouTubers Amy Karibian and Dale Martin. Brandi Carlisle is the musical director, vocal coordinator, conductor, and The Guardian's Laura Snapes had the band lineup for us: Marcus Mumford, Wynonna Judd, Blake Mills, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the band Lucius, and Mitchell’s bandmates Phil and Tim Hanseroth and Celisse Henderson. Carey [2]

Come in From The Cold (Dale Martin video) features Taylor Goldsmith (of Dawes) said lead and Joni sang harmony

Taylor's dad, Lenny, was an original member of 60s band the Five Americans and eventual lead singer for the Tower of Power.

Help Me (Dale Martin video)

A Case of You

Big Yellow Taxi

Just Like This Train (Joni on Parker Fly!)

Why Do Fools Fall in Love


Love Potion #9



Both Sides Now

and The Circle Game

In the years since her aneurysm, musicians have shared their regard and devotion for Joni and her music in performance, stories, and composition. Some are in her living room; others express it on their own stages. The impact of Mitchell's music is found in individual singers' tributes to her work around the world, from Australia to the UK to New England and Los Angeles.

As just a few examples, for the past seven years, singer-songwriter Kiki Ebsen's group, the Joni Mitchell Project, has performed a decade's worth of Mitchell's work that spans nine albums after noting that Joni's absence from performing had left a substantial musical void for two decades. Together with guitarists Grant Geissman, Terry Wollman, drummer Bernie Dresel, and Steve Lawrence on bass, and occasional guest artists, they interpret Mitchell's work with flair and authenticity by crowds who continue to appreciate annual appearances at the Laguna Festival of the Arts and upcoming Muckenthaler Cultural Arts Center date.

Multiple Grammy winner Christopher Cross could not sit quietly by as one of his heroes had suffered her aneurysm. In 2016 he released his tribute to her, "Roberta". He noted: "'Roberta' is the first [song] I have completed [on my new album], which is very much influenced by her later work 'Hejira' and beyond."

It is poignant to think that a commitment made by Joni's then manager David Geffen to appear on the Dick Cavett Show kept her from attending Woodstock, but in 1969 she wrote one of the most iconic songs that has long been considered the identity of the festival. Fitting then, that hours after the night ended and the sun came up, with great thanks to the journalists and videographers who captured time in a bottle for us one more time, we can enjoy the memories of a concert we never attended, but heard about, to perhaps be the impetus that inspired us to go forward and be creative. Thanks, one more time, to Joni for the music. Long may she rock.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

The Fervent Faith of First-Time Author Mary Lee Crocker Parnell

When you were young, you might have heard from your elders that if you want something enough, and if you pray about it, and ask for it to come true, that indeed your most closely held dreams can come true. Just ask 86-year-old Mary Lee Crocker Parnell of North Zulch; it may take a while, but if you have faith, anything is possible with God’s help.

Proof of fact is in the stories of many exceptional individuals and high achievers whose highest accomplishment at age 40 or 50 began as a childhood dream that they never gave up on. Astronauts, doctors, car inventors, and rocket scientists all began as children who asked “Why not me?” and "Why not?"

On Sunday, June 12th, over 50 people gathered in the Crocker Fellowship Hall of Sand Prairie Baptist Church in North Zulch, where Mary Lee was feted as a beloved church member and first-time author. You see, she didn’t write her first poem until she was 50 years old. It was a delightful message about Valentine’s Day.

In the past 36 years she’s been prolific and faithful in composing poems in honor of her faith, her family, and her coworkers throughout her life. It’s a feel-good book today, titled Down Through the Years in Poetry, published by Martin Powers Publishing in Bryan. The volume contains 75 poems grouped by topic and almost each one is based upon a Bible verse, noted, as well as the inspiration for the message.

Make no mistake. They’re not four-line verses of basic rhyme; they’re complex sentences, brilliantly composed, each one giving the reader a message of hope and a reason to believe, particularly on days when you need a lift.

Mary Lee currently resides in Bryan in a nursing community where she is making strong progress having survived a hefty battle with pneumonia. A church member drove her over from Bryan for an approved few hours away.

She was dressed in an exquisite blue maxidress, with an elegant silk floral print scarf. Her silver hair framed her lovely face that featured no wrinkles and shining brown eyes. Her shined but worn-in cowboy boots completed her ensemble.

As you might expect, there’s a story behind how this day came to be, one that includes the fastest turnaround time ever for a book to go from beginning manuscript to final product in hand—just one month.

In the Bible, several Old Testament chapters are considered poems on their own: Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs), and Lamentations.

The poems that Mary Lee writes are conversational, thoughtful compound sentences, and each tells a story important in, or to, her life. There are poems of faith in God, messages of thanks and hope for her friends and family, appreciation for good friends and coworkers in her career, holiday wishes, and superb birthday cards that defy anything that Hallmark or Carlton Cards could ever dream of publishing.

There were 75 poems in all, typed and xeroxed into a slightly aging cardstock cover coil-bound binder. There was the characteristic font of an ancient IBM Selectric typewriter and it meant that each would require retyping. Only a few cursory edits were required, and a tad of punctuation here and there. As it would turn out, they would find their own order into subject matter grouping as one-by-one, they were retyped.

In order for this dream to come true, that Mary Lee would one day hold her book of poems in her hands, the perfect pathway had to be paved, and once again powered by prayer and in God’s perfect time, things just sort of “came together” in her behalf.

Entirely unbeknownst to her, a dear lady who had met her and joined her in her pew at Sand Prairie Baptist Church in North Zulch had found herself enthralled at the positive spirit and vivaciousness of this precious octogenarian. One of Ms. Mary Lee’s favorite sayings was “Oh, my goodnesssss!” Her phrasing in a lilting voice made a simple phrase as distinct as a verse of music. It was her trademark, or one of them.

Her pewmate, Marcia, had it put on her heart to make Ms. Mary Lee’s dreams come true. She contacted her daughter Maia, an author and songwriter, about how best to go about it. Maia researched and found Ann, a skilled editor in Bryan, and she sent a blind e-mail. As it turned out, Ann was booked but suggested she’d check with a former Aggie classmate, Dawn Lee, to see if she was available and interested.

The e-mail Ann sent sounded so intriguing…a first-time author, aged 86, who had a dream of a published book of her poems. That was all it took. After a quick e-mail exchange, Maia suggested calling Marcia, her Mom, who had all the information. The next day, the phone call came, details were exchanged, and that afternoon, Marcia and I met at Tia Juanita's to review the poems and determine logistically when the project could be done and what it might cost. On May 1, it was decided that it needed to be available in about 4 weeks’ time because if it were to be introduced to the public, it would have to be before everyone scattered to the four winds for family reunions and long-awaited vacations that would occupy much of the next 12 weeks.

The plan was agreed upon and toasted with iced tea over chips and avocado dip. Our mutual plan also began a wonderful new friendship that will endure for years to come. There’s no way, by the way, that this path or timeframe is anywhere near normal, standard, or even possible, unless you are only doing one thing for 30 days. My life and my schedule are anything but predictable, by my own design and wish.

And yet everything fell into place perfectly. Why? I’d like to say it’s because Marcia reminded me constantly to begin each day with a prayer for God to “order my steps” according to His will. Ordinarly, I’m not very chatty about my personal faith with most people outside those who specifically ask me. Yet, I have to step out on a limb here and say that even though I’ve been a person “of faith” all of my life, there are times (most of them) when I tend to forge ahead on my accord, often forgetting to ask for inspiration or blessing and occasionally taking it for granted when it comes (anyway).

Marcia’s example and her gentle words were one kind of a necessary wake-up call to me, though, because things in my life were not going according to plan. Too many obstacles in a smooth path for my liking. Suddenly, the tide turned, and I found myself exhilarated by the one vision of what Ms. Mary Lee’s face would look like when she had her book in her hands at last.

One fine day we gathered at a local restaurant and Ms. Mary Lee’s niece, Joyce, joined us as the third Musketeer. These two girls were the project sponsors and the goal was simply to break even and gift people with an exciting collection of inspirational poems.

We discussed possibilities for getting the word out about the book when it was finished and how it was we would present the book to her. Phone calls, e-mails, text messages and lots of laughter over iced tea ensued for the next 3 weeks. And there sat Ms. Mary Lee entirely unaware of what was about to happen, getting stronger with PT after pneumonia.

After my printing representative pulled rabbit after rabbit out of a hat, production-wise, I imposed on graphic designer Amber’s weekend for a cover and gave her a basic description of “a compilation of Christian poems of faith, hope, and love, from a dear lady who loved nature and nature in the countryside.” She offered—"I’m seeing a field of poppies” and I knew that was inspired. Marcia requested Texas bluebonnets and boom, there they were. Formatting wizard Rhonda worked on a weekend (she never works weekends) for our goal and Marcia proofed what I'd typed and assembled: the book. Joyce planned and coordinated a special day at Sand Prairie Baptist to celebrate Ms. Mary Lee and her book, recruited her delighted sister, Judy, and other wonderful ladies of the church to contribute their special talents. There was about to be much to celebrate and give thanks for.

On Tuesday, June 7, Joyce and Marcia drove over to Bryan and we had lunch to celebrate the arrival of the books, in plenty of time before Ms. Mary Lee's special Sunday, June 12th. After lunch we traveled to the nursing rehab facility where Ms. Mary Lee was looking forward to a "surprise." The photos that follow speak better than words.

You see, Mary Lee didn’t write her first poem until she was 50 years old. Today she works to overcome severe macular degeneration in both eyes that require a special reader to even see the largest print. You’d never know it was a struggle to look at her or to hear her voice. She’s grateful for everything in her life.

Ms. Mary Lee didn’t really need a device to read her book though; she’s memorized her poems and knows them by heart. All of them. All 75. She has delighted her fellow residents at her rehab facility in Bryan by reciting several poems for them. She revealed, “God spoke to me and gave me each of these poems and then told me to commit them to memory because there could come a day when I could not read them, or my Bible, easily.”

Most all poems have an accompanying verse of scripture, indicative of the inspiration for the message. Each one is a gift to people in her family as well as those who’ve never met her.

On Sunday, June 12, over 50 people gathered at the Crocker Fellowship Hall at Sand Prairie Baptist for Ms. Mary Lee’s book signing. As I was invited to address the group and tell the story of how the book came to be, Ms. Mary Lee came up and stood beside me to be able to hear me clearly. As we stood there, arm in arm, I felt the most warm and peaceful hug that transcended this world. Time flew and I couldn’t tell you what I said in addressing the group. Marcia recorded it on her phone. Her pastor, Bro. Larry Andrews, and Music Minister Jim Graham had begun our day with an invigorating worship service that inspired the coming new week.

Joyce held the guide so Ms. Mary Lee could personally autograph her books for her friends. Her best friend from childhood, Cinda, arrived from San Antonio, in the company of two of her handsome (Aggie) grandsons who’d grown up known Ms. Mary Lee as extended family. After 7 decades of friendship, these two beloved sister-friends still talk on the phone twice a day. That fact alone made me smile for hours. When the party was done, all was right with the world, as we parted with half of our entire inventory moved in that one book signing.

The next time you think life has passed you by, all chances to turn your world around are gone, or that there’s nothing new on the horizon for you, take Ms. Mary Lee’s advice and pray about it. And prepare to see a path forward being cleared so you can achieve your heart’s desire. You may be 86 years old when it arrives, but still, there’s nothing quite as sweet as when a longheld dream comes true. It will make you want to say, “Oh my goodnessss!” when it does.

About the Book

Down Through the Years in Poetry by Mary Lee Crocker (© Martin Powers Publishing, 2022) is available for $20 per copy (includes S/H and postage). Remaining copies are going quickly, as she already has another book signing soon. Send your name and e-mail to for information if you'd like to order a copy.