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!

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.

Monday, May 30, 2022

When Memorial Day Becomes Real for You

When the doorbell rang almost 80 years ago, standing on the front porch of my mother’s childhood home were two servicemen, both looking solemn, asking to speak in person with my mother, at the time a young woman in her early 20s.

As they spoke, her expression froze, as time stopped for her that day. She learned that her fiancé, a navigator serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps, had gone missing in action while on a squadron mission during World War II. The rest of the words they spoke drifted into the vapor as she processed the news.

Her mind rushed back to images of their happiest times together. They’d met in college. He was a Pre-Med student from the north, and she was a young woman from the Midwest, studying journalism and big bands.

She often missed or was late to French class, which began at 8:00 a.m. She never missed a dance. Her dance card was always filled on each occasion. And no fewer than six young men had asked her to wear their fraternity pins, which she had done from time to time, “because they began crying when she said ‘no’ to their first request.

Known for her love of life, sense of humor, and truthful heart and spirit, surely she was destined for a life of “happily ever after.” So thought every woman who was in college to get an education and possibly find their soulmate at some point. The nuclear family of husband, wife, and 2.3 children, a dog, a cat, and a picket fence surrounding their home wasn't that far away was it?

Those were the days. Music on the radio, supper clubs with live music, fine food, and dancing the night away were for dating. Drive-in movies could find three couples fit into wide roadsters that had convertible tops for fresh-air theatre, before it became billed as “movies under the stars.” Six people could attend the movie for the price of a “carload” back when no one had much money for dates. A bowlful of prepopped popcorn could be stored to save a trip to the concession stands. You propped the tinny speaker on the driver’s side window to hear the soundtrack that Hollywood had prepared for you.

Before he had left college to serve his country, he’d asked her to marry him, on more than one occasion. She declined, saying that she wanted to wait until he came home safely before they began life together. His number had been called and he didn’t want to take the deferment because he was a medical student. He was ready to serve his country. “It was the right thing to do,” he said. She agreed. She was firm in her decision, having reflected for days at a time whether or not to at least start life out by taking a chance that everything would be all right and they would live happily ever after.

And yet, there was only one decision for her—wait until he came home. He asked if she would at least wear a ring while she waited. Although she declined, she said, “I am your fiancée and that is all you need to know. Come back to me after the war, and I will be your wife.” Days, weeks, and months went by. At the movies there were the news reels and films showing our country at war. It was a time of war bonds, of doing without some luxuries, and of rationing things they used to take for granted.

Women were working in jobs that were traditionally held by men. She was a secretary at the U.S. Treasury at that point in her career, having left college because funds were tight, and all income was needed to keep the large family going. The nation’s attitude was united in fighting a common enemy abroad. There was no question about all who would serve.

Until that fateful day arrived. The doorbell rang. The news was delivered. Life as she knew it, or expected it to be, was over. She faced a myriad of decisions about the future. Mostly for a while it was a blur. Her own brothers had lied to enter the service far before their 18th birthdays and our armed forces needed those who would be willing to serve so they paid little attention to ID before swearing in those ready to defend the United States.

The weapons they were issued back then were not sophisticated, but they got the job done. Looking at the faces of the young men in combat back then, they didn’t approach their jobs with an expectation of dying. They painted the outsides of their planes to fit their personalities and sassy slogans adorned the fuselage.

They knew every inch of their aircraft and the people who were on base in charge of maintenance. Soldiers trained and prepared for their individual roles, but they knew where each was vital within their squadron. On each plane you would have a pilot, a copilot, a navigator, a bomber, one or two gunners, an engineer, and a radio operator.

You flew numerous training missions to get ready for the day and time when you would be airborne, on a mission to defend and protect your country. Adrenaline rushed and blood pressure spiked. There is no real-life equivalent to the actual circumstances, not even in Hollywood’s current depiction of “Top Gun: Maverick.”

Yet, on this Memorial Day, multiple generations of the families of those who were killed in war have this one day for our nation to remember the loss of their lives to protect our country.

As it turns out, the young woman who was never to marry the love of her life would know that some of the squadron made it back when her man did not. For over 30 years, she was not in contact with any of them. In that time she’d worked for several years, married, and years later had a child, and ultimately divorced.

The child would grow up hearing about her mother’s early life and challenges she faced. When asked how she managed to cope with the loss, she responded, “Faith in God,” and that didn’t come instantly. A child who’d been to church all her life, her faith went down in the shrapnel of that burning airplane and stayed as missing in action for a year as her fiancé was.

But into her life came the birth of her a child of her brother and his wife, and he was also in service at the time. The presence of the little one as they, too, lived in the family home, made her realize how precious life was. When the child cried at night, the woman who went to check on her was her aunt, so the mother could sleep a little more. In those quiet nights together, the woman rocking the little girl fell back into faith, because she relearned how to love again. Days became brighter as time went on.

Fifty years after the war, in 1996, the woman recalled that one of the men in the squadron that her fiance had belonged to was from Texas A&M. A call to the Association of Former Students later, she dialed the number of the former student who was still living in Texas. In a conversation that lasted about 45 minutes, the woman learned details about the mission, and her fiance, that no one else could have known to tell her.

In that conversation, she found closure to her grief that had haunted her about the unknown. She knew exactly what had preceded his going missing in action and why it was understandble that her fiance and another soldier had gone and remained missing in action. It took over 50 years for closure, which was fortunate in that many women who lost loved ones in World War II never got that kind of understanding. A miracle and an Aggie angel brought that gift.

This week we face a tragedy of massive proportions equivalent to the one last week from the mass loss of lives thanks to the suspension of laws that previously forbade assault weapons being readily available. The right to bear arms is found in the Second Amendment to the U.S. constitution.

Those who read People magazine might recall in 2013, the Manchin-Toomey amendment that would have required “background checks on all commercial gun sales.” This was proposed “four months after 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook elementary” and it fell six votes short of getting 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Here’s why: “Nearly all of the 46 senators who voted against that amendment had accepted significant campaign contributions from PACs associated with gun rights groups, including the NRA.”

Let’s be clear. All of you professional hunters, sportsmen, gamesmen (and women), and even those of you who love your NRA—I’m not at all asking you to put down your guns. I’m not “coming after your weapons” and those of you who know me better know that or you’re not paying attention.

It’s your right to own guns. It is not your right to arm children with assault rifles and not even wonder how an 18-year-old can afford to buy not 1, but 2 of them within 48 hours and a bunch of ammo to go with it. How many 18-year-olds that you know actually need an assault rifle? The kind they build to protect service personnel and kill enemies of war? That kind?

We cannot go back in time and recover the lives that were lost in World War II any more than we can bring back the lives of the children whose lives were lost last week. But going forward we can do far more than we have to keep our children and our teachers, staff, and administrators safe at school.

Here at home in the Brazos Valley, we do a better job of honoring lives that were lost. Wreath-placing on graves, ceremonies at the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial in College Station, and in the remembering of generations past. The lives were lost in war or wartime, maybe even in training preparing troops for war.

Others lost their lives after suffering PTSD among service personnel who signed up to protect, defend, and serve the U.S. government and its citizens, lost to a bullet, a grenade, a gas, or other weapon. They fell apart after serving their country in times of war, protecting our country against those who would destroy our freedom.

When all is said and done, future generations will judge us by what we did and how we did in trying to protect “those at home” from those who are enemies to the lives we hold dear.

We cannot go back in time and recover the lives that were lost in World War II any more than we can bring back the lives of the children and teachers whose lives were lost last week. But going forward we can do far more than we have to keep our children and our teachers, staff, and administrators safe at school.

When election time is around, remember whose elections are financed by who and what. Know what they stand for. If you continue to vote for them, then what they stand for is what you stand for. Lest you ask, “What can one person do?” the answer is simple.

The same one person who signed up to defend our country in peacetime or in war can be matched by another who signs up to teach our children, coach our children in positive activities outside the classroom, and you can also exercise your right to vote for people who own their own souls. One voice, one life, one soul can change the world as we know it. One person at a time, we can change the future, if we really want to. You know how it’s done.

In loving memory of all those brave men and women who gave their lives for our county, to whom we owe a debt we can never repay.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Blest Be the Ties That Bind—The Gravitational Pull of Keystone School

For more than four decades, I’ve been one—of many—who enjoy keeping up with my classmates from Keystone School in San Antonio. Not just my high school classmates, but the activities and whereabouts from many students from classes spanning 1963–1985 have remained important to me all my life. I’m not the only one who feels this way.

High school reunions are nothing new, but for a small private school in San Antonio to have intense loyalty among several generations of students such that it borders on a feverish determination to remain connected is unique. For hours now, on the drive up and back today, I’ve thought about how it came to be that one school could mean so much to so many. It truly reminded me of the gravitational pull of Keystone, drawing so many of us near to it, bringing us back to home base over the course of our lives at different times. [Photo of Main Hall, Keystone School]

In the 1960s, gatherings were typically official holiday functions at the school. There were never blatant overtones of requests for financial support. In fact, it was the exact opposite message communicated by the leadership. They did lobby heavily for some graduates to return to the school to teach when academic studies were completed; they were purposeful and straightforward about that mission. Several graduates did just that, and the school added a broad general dimension to its growth, contributing to its primarily unspoken legacy then.

Later, reunions expanded offsite to favorite restaurants or classmates’ homes, but no matter where or how, for years we took time to meet. Individual class sizes averaged 20 students, but it was not unusual for only 10 or 11 to comprise the complete graduating class. For the next two decades, interest in reunions became more class-oriented for private gatherings. One local alum might include some 70s friends in the 60s-era gatherings but those were limited occasions.

There was no single precipitating cause for trying to reconstruct a schoolwide gathering, but time and opportunity intersected at the 10-year point past my high school graduation. It wasn’t easy to get the first reunion started, but we began in 1984. A dear friend and mentor, Tommye Brennan Howard ’63 (real name Patricia, but don’t ever call her that) and I renewed our friendship that had begun in 1962. She was my first call, and after a brief chat, we were off and running.[Photo of Tommye Brennan Howard]

In 1985 we had our first schoolwide grand reunion (since the 1960s school holiday coffee events in Keystone’s cafeteria). Ours became a two-day gathering at a local hotel ballroom, with dinner, dancing, and DJ, followed by a BBQ at the school campus the next day. The two of us spent our spare time over six months to find alums, recruit them for the weekend, and plan the event. We burned up AT&T Friends and Family calling plan with memories and reminiscences.

The school-based gathering welcomed our alumni parents and/or immediate children for a chance to visit. Some parents attended even if their children could not, having relocated out of town, because there was a great relationship throughout many classes that way. We were all as happy to see others’ parents as we would be their children.

As a five-year-old, fresh into first grade, I believe half my Keystone friends were ages 17 and older. I had a few of my own classmates of interest, but I was constantly pestering the second graders to tell me “what came after” addition and subtraction. Patiently they’d tell me about multiplication, assure me that Mrs. Kumin was wonderful and I'd love her class. I was having the time of my life with Mrs. Lucy Hines in first grade. I just wanted second grade to be as good and thus began my early days as a sleuth of sorts. Thanks to Carla Carter'73 and Marilyn Harper'73, they relieved my anxiety that I would not be disappointed in what came next. [Photos: Clockwise Mrs. Hines, Mrs. Kumin, Carla Carter, and Marilyn Harper.]

People my own age were nice but really not as interesting as the upper classmen. The high school seniors adopted me as their mascot aka "chief errand runner." When they were clear on one side of the school’s sprawling campus landscape near South Hall, in San Antonio’s Monte Vista Historic District, they wanted to get messages to their classmates who were exiting “North Hall” (the fancy term for the three story, plus basement, old adobe apartments) that featured ingress and egress via iron and concrete stairs that resembled more fire escapes than classroom pathways.

Willingly, I’d scamper “all the way over” to the other side of campus to deliver a message ala Wakefield Western Union to the classmate about the next meet-up time and location of the other seniors.

[Top: South Hall; Bottom: North Hall.]

As a first-grader as yet undiscovered food allergies kept me indoors from recess for several weeks…which found me in the school cafeteria at the same time when the Latin Club high schoolers practiced their Christmas carols for an upcoming holiday event, in Latin, of course. I loved how they sounded and paid close attention. Learning by immersion, I suppose.

In my sequestration from additional germs and temperature irritants, I picked up “Adeste Fideles” and several others and started singing them in Latin in church without the hymnal. My mother managed to keep her surprise to a minimum, just smiling and not making a big deal of it. Well, the Latin verses came right to mind so why not sing ‘em? Thank you Mrs. Sallie B. Johnson.

Conversations with various members of the class of 1963 were my favorite part of Keystone that first year. They were wise, they were kind, they smiled, and they were very, very tall. Most of all, they gave great hugs. I hugged back.

When you’re new in the world of school, and your parents had just divorced, and you were told that you couldn’t attend public school because you weren’t old enough yet to enroll…Keystone rescued me from an additional year of nice but boring kindergarten.

It became my home away from home, and for the rest of my life, I would find safety and security in any halls of learning, whether modest or grand. A feeling of calm would wash over me at the site of old (very old) wooden desks, deep rich paneling and exquisite crown molding that were built into the old mansions reconverted into our classrooms with minimal changes.

The old-timey radiators were the place to be near in the winter. My adventures would soon begin in the books in the lower school library, carry forward in my imagination, and ultimately emerge through my writing as I grew up. From countless biographies to "The Happy Hollisters," to "A Wrinkle in Time," my spare time hours were booked!

So, to stage that first reunion, it was only natural that Tommye would reach out to “her group” and I’d reach out to “my group.” The result was at least 300 students including spouses made it to one or the other reunion event. That was 1985.

Around 1994, Lizzie Newman Easterlin, my ’74 classmate, decided it was time for another reunion; this one featured mostly the 70s folks. Virtually singlehandedly, she organized another splendid weekend event and people came into SA from all over, another success. She put the call out, and whoosh, “If you build it, they will come” resulted.

Lizzie's husband at the time was new to us but he showed great enthusiasm and no signs of boredom or disinterest at (finally) meeting all the people he'd heard about for a few years. After meeting a certain group of "sciencers" as Coach Eargle called them, he walked away shaking his head, confiding to one fellow he knew well: "Don't any of you guys have regular jobs like mine? I heard 'If I tell you what I do, I'll have to kill you,' so many times." Of course they were joking...well most of them were...a few was. Let's just say their jobs required high security clearances and leave it at that.

A few years later, the reunions sort of stopped because no one was around to stage them and do the work to gather everyone. People were getting busier in their careers, families, and after some additional geographic relocations, it was harder to get a group together. Keystone officials over the years (after Coach Eargle passed away) sponsored this or that holiday gathering but no more did most of the graduates’ call San Antonio home anymore—we’d scattered to the four winds.

In the 1990s, a online group was formed, primarily of 70s/80s alumni, key 60s folks, and students who attended Keystone, even for a year or more, joined the list. It was at least a collective outreach to bring people together. Occasionally someone would start a discussion thread and others would chime in, maintaining light contact.

Other classmates found personal visits with some of their friends to be centralized to mini-reunions when they came into San Antonio. Some would come in for sporting events, e.g., a Spurs home game. A photo or two might be posted. Lives were busy and no matter what everyone was doing, we all expected to live forever. Howard Morrow organized a band, The Bad Assets, and we chose Bill Fischer's Shenanigan's Club as the site, and a musical reunion of classmates brought many of the 70s folks back in "Let's get the band back together" kind of reunion. Threat of a tornado kept some folks away but others appropriately ignored it and gathered. The Bad Assets would have another appearance at fellow group member Jay Hill's place. Jay, a classmate of Howard's who played a mean bass was kind enough to host one gathering where live music returned. Lizzie Newman and Gloria Muro Shaw (and Burton) attended, and Lisa Ransopher '75 sang with the band. The event had more talking than singing though...

Then, in 2011, a major event happened…our beloved English teacher, Jim Klaeveman, aka Ivie James Klaeveman, died. His obituary appeared in the Express-News and Lynda Tussay '73 shared it by creating a Facebook community page for Keystone alumni. We couldn’t believe he’d passed “so early,” as he seemed to be barely older than we were when he taught us.

Even as early as 11 years ago, we didn’t think we’d be losing someone we regarded so highly before we could even reach out to tell him what his teaching had meant to us. Keystonians weren’t like that anyway…there was no chorus of “To Sir with Love” being sung or anything like taking us "from crayons to perfume." In fact, we all still feel the pain of having our best word patterns and ideas smashed to bits because we were not specific, clear, concise, or logical in our presentation. He was the toughest taskmaster from whom we learned the most. We all had just been lulled into a sense of thinking the teachers we knew would always be there.

It wasn’t just me. It was so many of us finding time, when back in SA, to pop onto campus and see what had become of the “old place.” That practice began in the 1960s, and many of us “lifers” were delighted when we’d look up and see a fairly recent graduate back in town, coming to campus to visit with Mr. Greet, Prof, and Coach. Later, they would return to see Mr. Babel, Mrs. Oppenheimer, and Mr. Klaeveman, whose time at Keystone accounted for decade(s) of longevity. To remember and to be remembered was always a reward you could count on.

At least a decade ago, classmate Rick Meinig'75 would travel to San Antonio from Colorado and spend a week or two consistently in April, sometimes Easter week or Fiesta Week. During Rick's time here, many of us from the 70s and early 80s (and some spouses) would reconnect at events ranging from Spurs games to outdoor lunches at restaurants with patios. The pattern that began once soon became an annual tradition, which continues today for at least 25 of us plus or minus.

Next up: You never know what to expect at a Keystone reunion. Exciting things can happen! ...coming soon. [Note: All photos courtesy of DLW Yearbook Collection.]

Saturday, January 1, 2022

What Would Make Your Dreams Come True in 2022?

As we bid farewell to 2021 we tend to reflect and judge our hits and misses over the past year—sometimes harshly. Did we do everything we set out to do? What did we fail to do? Were they goals or dreams? First, there are your goals, but at a more prized level, there are your dreams. Both can come true, and both are important.

Let’s face it. On January 1st, most people set goals for the coming year. You’re either going to address relationships with people, develop material gains, take the long-awaited vacation, or maybe earn that credential or certification for a promotion.

Yes, today is the deadline for the goals we set 12 months ago. Some goals we announced to others; others we kept private. We didn’t know what was ahead 365 days ago. Used to be just hard work and determination would lead to achieving goals. That’s standard with goals, but what about with dreams?

What did you dream about doing last year that you thought would really make you happy? Was it finding a special person, a job title you’d only dreamed of, a particular economic milestone…”If only I had ____” then my dreams would come true.

When life takes a downward turn, sometimes our dreams evaporate as quickly as they came. We start swimming in reality and renegotiating what we’ve dreamed about to simply be survive and make it to the next day. Nothing puts a damper on a dream than someone pouring cold water on the idea and reminding us that the chance of our dreams coming true are slim to none.

Children have all kinds of dreams from the time they’re able to talk. One day they might announce they want to fly a spaceship. Others say they might like to travel all over the world, helping people feel better. Still others say they want to own the tallest building in the city. A few say they want to play a professional sport. What do adults tell the children? At least 75% of parents and adults encourage children to dream. Others tell them not to focus on "such nonsense."

Encouragers affirm the concept that their child can be or do anything they want. They might even make them a cape when they announce they want to be a superhero. If the child is lucky, their dreams come true because no one has managed to throw cold water on what may seem to others to be unrealistic goals or expectations.

When do we as adults stop dreaming? Probably as soon as we find there was a dream we couldn’t accomplish. One failure must surely predict another, right? Those who achieve greatness never give up on their dreams. They sacrifice time, money, friendships, whatever it takes to do what they want that others deem “impossible” or “pie-in-the-sky” unattainable.

Why is it that adults feel the need to “bring reality” to children, to suggest they choose another path? To drop out of their dream and re-enter normal life and get used to dreams not being attainable? Maybe it's to cushion them from the grim reality they faced long ago back when they were dreaming "big" and their dream wasn't realized. No matter the reason, it’s the children who don’t let adults dampen their dreams who actually achieve them. How do they do it?

Maybe it’s just a matter of tuning out anyone who tries to dissuade them, and maybe if they’re lucky, along the way, they find mentors who help them achieve their dreams.

The year 2022 offers many opportunities for things to get better than last year. Yes, it’s true we begin on a few notes of uncertainty. There are some standing challenges in the way in all of our lives, but they don’t define us. They don’t have to last the entire year. Those challenges don’t have to rob us of our joy.

When we dream, I’m sure some scientific study or other will show that our body releases endorphins to make us happy. Perhaps holding that dream close to us in our hearts can perpetuate that happy feeling. In the 1960s we were told that one day we might all propel through the sky in rocket belts, or we might have a car like George Jetson did, or a little machine that prepared hot food at the push of a button.

The ironic thing is people possibly assume The Jetsons was the pacesetting dream concept that inspired today's electric cars. In actual fact, you can thank Ford and their 1954 "dream car concept" called the FX-Atmos as the inspiration for the Jetsons' car. You can read more about it here. However, I think we can thank Hanna-Barbera and their writers for the ability to push a button and have the car turn into George's briefcase.

Remember, even Dick Tracy had a cool watch he talked into, and be sure to smile into your iPhone watch a little more as you catch up with a loved one on FaceTime.. Maybe when you win the lotto, you’ll be closer to a ride on the Blue Origin, you might get into your electric car and travel home and warm up your frozen dinner in the microwave. Each of these things started with a dream.

Never give up on your dreams. So often, we are closer than we think and the solution is just one good night's sleep away from reality.

Poet Langston Hughes wrote:

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

Perhaps while you’re at it, take a moment to encourage a youngster that they, too, can follow their dreams to fruition if they don’t give up. You may be that one person who believes in them and the result will be tomorrow’s newest best idea. That’s just part of what you can in 2022. The rest is up to you. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Aaron Sorkin’s “Being the Ricardos” Reveals Lucy’s and Desi’s Real Love in Real Life

It’s always easy to be loved by lightning in a bottle; from within its confines, it reaches out, holds you, captivates you, becomes obsessed with you, and never lets you go. It has captured you. It is harder to love lightning in a bottle because it shines so brightly it blinds you; it projects warmth that you fear will one day leave you. It owns you; you don’t own it. Individually you are important; together you are magic.

This film from Aaron Sorkin and Amazon Studios is the story of a week in the life of Desi Arnaz and his wife Lucille Ball—a film of passion, turmoil, love from above the elemental plane of earth and sorrow that is resolute and inconsolable. [Photo credit:]

Having waited for two months after learning of the December 21st debut of Aaron Sorkin’s latest work of genius truly gave me something to look forward to. At one minute past midnight on December 21, I opened Amazon’s website to check if it was available.

Christmas came early this year, because all I had to do was click, and instantly I was transported back to my 1950s childhood. The opening scene introduces Walter Winchell’s breaking news that Lucy (referred to only as “the redhead” had been a member of the Communist Party. The second scene introduces the full cast and crew of “I Love Lucy,” and there’s brilliant dialogue that will delight TV trivia fanatics who definitely know, even if they hadn’t known before, who Rusty Hamer was.

Next, you see all the CBS executives and too many representatives of the show’s sponsor, Philip Morris in Desi’s office at Desilu Productions. Finally, we’re back on set for Day 1’s Table Read. Background music begins and triggers the process by which the show’s director, producer, and two writers along with the stage director interact. And for the next two hours, you will lose all track of time because there’s no place but the world of the Ricardos and the Arnazes that matters.

In the first 18 minutes, you’re about to learn the backstory of Desi as singer, movie star, and mesmerizing lady killer. For every pre-movie crank who claimed there was no chance that Javier Bardem would be believable as Desi Arnaz, pay up whomever you bet with because no better actor could portray Desi than Bardem.

Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Lucy goes straight to the heart. Her presentation of the range of emotions that Lucy experiences in a week’s time is the height and depth of real-life angst and satisfaction from delivering what she knows she is capable of bringing. Not once during the movie did it occur to me that I wasn’t watching the “real” Lucy. Note: to those who think this movie reflects the TV show, there are multiple scenes that would never have made it past the CBS censors in olden days, but don’t let that be a reason not to watch.

J. K. Simmons has proved over and over again what a brilliant actor he is. He is so good that he managed to reveal the true heart and spirit of Bill Frawley, who virtually every fan of the show considers to be the lesser light and grumpy old man. In fact, Simmons’ Frawley is brilliant, insightful, compassionate, and actually funny.

So far that’s three Academy Award winners so who do we get for Vivian Vance? A Tony Award winner, Nina Arianda. This may be the first you’ve heard of her but not seen. You After numerous successful Broadway plays, Arianda brings accolades from movies and television as well. Her portrayal of Vivian is superb and explores the story thread that Lucy always wanted Viv to be more like the average American housewife than movie star, especially in a contract that specified her minimum weight.

As seen multiple times, Lucy’s skill in envisioning full comedy scenes from one line pitched by a writer to full scene is part of the brilliance of the show: “Lucy stomps the grapes” was written on an index card on the corkboard; how it “became” the “stomping the grapes” episode happened in Lucy’s mind.

Three writers and one dreamer added up to magic. Lucy was a stickler for detail in set design, show flow, use of scenery, lines that didn’t work, and the “moving parts of physical comedy.” As you progress in the film, you won’t “hear” Nicole; you hear the range and timber of Australian Nicole as the real Lucy.

Desi Arnaz received the credit he was due and the respect as a businessman he so greatly deserved. Sorkin made sure to show the behind-the-scenes role that Desi played as he functioned literally and substantially as Desilu studios’ President. He had no trouble leading (wait until you see how he handled “the Red Scare.”) No hints, no spoilers.

The dialogue flows: (Lucy to Bill Frawley) “Let me tell you something about Desi. He runs this show, every creative decision goes through him. Every business decision, the network, Philip Morris, and if that wasn’t enough, he is camera ready on Monday. Takes me five days to get a laugh. He’s killing at the Table Read. And believe me, that man is nobody’s second banana.” (Bill to Lucy) “And how many people know that? That Desi runs the show?”

Therein is the key to the major struggle in the Arnaz family at home. Home is a word that Lucy used often, wistfully, and it meant to her that it was a sanctuary for her and her family. For Desi, home was “the boat,” his home without her, as well as the stage at Ciro’s and everywhere he toured.

Once again, Javier Bardem kills as Ricky in his prime as a bandleader and performer. Whether or not Javier ever played the congas before this movie, thanks to coaching by the iconic Walfredo Reyes, Jr. (Chicago, Santana, Traffic), his playing of “Babalu” was perfect, down to the detail of loosening his bow tie during the “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” call-and-answer with the band. Later on, his version of “Cuban Pete” is another showstopper.

One unique aspect of the film is Sorkin’s inside look at the relationship between Jess Oppenheimer (writer and producer), Madelyn Pugh Davis (who just died this past April at age 90) and Bob Carroll, Jr., the three brains that wrote the dialogue that America memorized each week. Lucy and Desi brought life to the words, but a surprise reveal was the snarkiness and almost ridicule bordering on contempt that the brilliant writers showed Lucy…to the point of Desi having to have serious discussions with them about how disrespectful they were to her.

It was a bonus to see Linda Lavin portraying Madelyn Pugh Davis. Trivia fans will love that Madelyn Pugh was also known as Madelyn Martin from 1955–1960, as she was married to producer Quinn Martin, producer of “The FBI,” “Barnaby Jones,” and “The Fugitive, among at least 12 weekly shows he produced, another show-biz couple in the exact same business.

The character of Bob Carroll, Jr. was not a pleasant one--he eternally tried to take credit for any good idea the cast liked, unabashedly and unbelievably narcissistic. Perhaps the writers' slight jealousy was understandable as your face, name, and existence are known only to faithful credit watchers, and it’s beyond real to have anyone give the writers a standing ovation, even if they win an Emmy or an Oscar. And yet, great dialogue in the hands of the wrong actors, simply is not funny, no matter what. As has been said, all the stars in the sky must line up properly for the magic to happen. Here, magic was built on respect.

Respect was everything to Desi, not as much for himself, but for his wife and her talent. Sorkin’s dialogue captures that point and brings it home multiple times. That one tenet of faith that, at least professionally, was made clear was the unquestioned respect Lucy and Desi had for another and that’s where the love began. Offstage, it was easy to see where the love faded.

Lucy (with or without husband Gary Morton’s consent) stayed dear friends with Desi and his wife Edith. The two wives were very close and the blended families were often at Lucy’s home, so that everyone could visit with Lucie, Desi, Jr., and the grandchildren. Everyone had access to unconditional love in real life.

And yet, the acting and producing was also their real life. Lucy’s gift was comedy, not the Rita Hayworth and Judy Holiday stars that shone brightly on the dramatic screen. She resigned herself to that because she had a chance, one she demanded from CBS, to work with her real-life husband on a quality program that America fell in love with and shared with the rest of the world. The show was groundbreaking in so many ways, yet it remains fresh each time you see an episode today, even if it is the 34th time you’ve seen “Vitameatavegimen.”

When they worked together, they built an empire. It was Desi’s idea for the three cameras to shoot scenes more completely and the live audience would have an unobstructed view of the action. Occasionally Lucy’s dialogue would include stage directions and only then were you reminded that this was not real life you were watching.

Desilu Productions also produced “Star Trek,” whose shows remain almost as iconic today as “I Love Lucy,” and their reach is worldwide as well. Their “Mission Impossible” was the precursor to virtually every governmental secret agency show that would be developed for the next 60 years. For just three of their productions, that’s hundreds of millions of viewers amassed.

In its debut, “Being the Ricardos” is available on Amazon Prime today in the United States, Germany, Latin America, Paris, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy. It’s a free film to Amazon Prime members, but I would have willingly paid $20 to watch it tonight. The Arnaz children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., are two of the Executive Producers of this film. Along with other key producers, we had “one more chance” to be with a favorite couple from our Baby Boomer childhood. Aaron Sorkin is once again synonymous with brilliance in show flow, dialogue, and comedy.

In 2017 Amazon Studios won its first three Oscars for their film “Moonlight.” Someone better make room at headquarters, because this film is bound to bring home trophies. Thanks for an early Christmas, Aaron, Amazon, and the Arnaz family.