Saturday, December 30, 2017

Remembering Cindy Johnson Burgess ~ March 17, 1960 – December 27, 2017

On a Saturday morning in Bryan, Texas, within the peace and serenity of Rest-Ever Cemetery, a group of family and friends gathered to remember and honor the life Lucinda Johnson Burgess, a woman who’d touched many with her spirit and optimism throughout her lifetime.

An occasion of saying goodbye to Cindy, in the presence of her family, presented voices united in prayers and affirmations that her life on Earth had truly made a difference to so many, there and those she’d reached in all of her lifetime.

She’d entered the world on St. Patrick’s Day, and so her birth made a special day even more special. She and her brother Craig grew up here in Bryan and in her lifetime, she met and made so many friends that this was definitely one home base for her.

Over 20 years ago, I first met Cindy through her parents, Lee Roy and Carolyn, when she’d moved back to Bryan, after having raised her children in Austin. I’d learned that she had battled the impact of brain cancer and knew that her family had kept vigil by her bedside throughout each step of the way. Those were the bad times. No one wants to remember the bad times, and yet, they reveal the very character of the person and those who love them.

Brain cancer meant a tumor, which meant radiation, which meant that she had been cancer free, according to her daughter Victoria, for ten years. Still, the radiation had done quite a bit to alter Cindy’s balance when walking, and yet, her smile was so bright all the time that you only remember her smile and her amazing attitude. She wanted to be brave for Victoria, and for her son Michael. Their growth and progress as young adults was key to her, and she was always so proud of each milestone they achieved.

Yet, it took more to be there for her kids than it did the average person. A serious medical episode and tough experiences in your lifetime, as minister Charlie Ray pointed out this morning, are like the notches along the stem of a rose, marking those times with a bump. Before and after, though, are the signs of life lived more smoothly.

Church was a relevant part of Cindy’s lifetime commitment of faith, key in Cindy’s life. When she originally lived in Austin, she was church secretary and a faithful member at Oak Hill UMC there.

When Cindy located back in Bryan, she became active at First United Methodist Church as well as attending many Bible studies and other church activities there. She also attended other churches’ Bible studies and found multi-ecumenical faith journeys refreshing.

When her health permitted, Cindy became active in local area politics, much like the apple not falling far from the tree. Cindy was a key volunteer in a local race for state representative and was truly appreciated and valued for her contributions. Her battle with cancer behind her, the side effects of radiation had slowed her down, but didn’t take her out of participating in things she loved.

In Bryan, unquestionably, Cindy loved being with her brother, Craig, sister-in-law, Kathy, and nephew Christopher, and there was usually good music or bbq involved in gatherings. Cindy and music are two words that go so naturally together in a sentence. She was a fan of classic rock, of solid country music, and there’s no question that her favorite performer, of whom she had become fond as a teenager, was Barry Manilow.

Cindy and a friend had a chance to see Barry Manilow’s concert in person at The Woodlands several years ago, and she was so excited to know that Vince Gill had recently joined forces with The Eagles for a 2018 tour. That was Cindy, always looking ahead, while looking back at what was good. She maintained a vital interest in the world around her always, and she was faithful in keeping up with what her friends and family were doing, as best she could.

Cindy was a faithful member of the Beta Sigma Phi Sorority and made lifelong friends there as well. As word has spread of her passing, memories and tributes will continue to be shared on her Callaway-Jones tribute page and in cards that are shared in the days ahead.

In her final days, she achieved what every Mother prays to do in her lifetime, to see her children grown and happy, so she can transition into the next life in peace. With God’s blessings, that happened. Two years ago, Cindy’s son Michael was accepted into the Honors College program at the University of South Florida studying for his IT degree. That same day she shared that daughter Victoria had won Employee of the Year for her company. Cindy loved sharing good news with those who loved her.

Michael and Victoria often teamed up to honor their mother, whether Mother’s Day or other special occasion. Cindy, the mother, knew she was loved and beloved by her children, who also enjoy a close relationship with their dad.

Present day, Michael is now married to the lovely Kayleigh Dunna, and Victoria has become recently engaged to Cody Esser, who made a tremendously romantic journey to find Victoria’s engagement ring, the kind of journey that every mother hopes her daughter will find, in praying for a son-in-law who will treat her like a princess.

As parents, Carolyn and Lee Roy Johnson have lived the hardest day of their lives today, in giving Cindy back to God. It’s not a matter of faith; they know where she is and that she is entirely free of the Earthly illness that caused Cindy to fall earlier this month, and her system tried to battle back, and could not. In the interim, sister-in-law Kathy and brother Craig asked for prayers for her in the interim period.

Whether or not a person has a strong faith construct, you could be sure that knowing that “this life” is not all there is in the world makes the distinctive difference in our lives that reassures us what pastor Charlie Ray said to the local group of family and friends assembled to pay their respects to Cindy and her family: “This was God’s time, and today she hurts no more.” Love flowed throughout Cindy’s life and as the impact of that love remains with all those whose lives she has touched.

The service concluded by reminding us of the assurances offered by scripture of life eternal, including the gospel of John, the Psalms, and the promises of Ecclesiastes.

Next Saturday, January 6, there will be a memorial service in Austin and Oak Hill United Methodist Church in Austin so that her Austin family can pay their respects.

I’m not going to end this on a sad note. She wouldn’t like that, not one bit. Instead, every day of our lives is a chance to offer one voice to be heard. Cindy used her voice and we are all the better for hearing her.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Z is for Zenith: Author Sue Grafton Dies at Age 77

The final case of fictional detective Kinsey Millhone’s career has been closed, one book shy of the complete alphabet murder series so brilliantly crafted by author Sue Grafton. Grafton, 77, died in Santa Barbara, California, today after a lengthy battle with cancer. Her husband, Steven Humphrey, told the Associated Press that “Grafton had been struggling to find an idea for ‘Z’ while undergoing treatment (for cancer) and losing weight.”

Sue Grafton intrigued mystery lovers around the world with her capable, calm, methodical detective Kinsey Millhone. Millhone had no attachments to people, places or things, although she headquartered in Santa Teresa, a fictional town in California, where Kinsey supplemented her big cases by working on resolving small matters for an insurance company.

Kinsey was a loner, quite the opposite of Sue Grafton, happily married, plus mother to two daughters and a son, in the world she spanned between Louisville, Kentucky, and Montecito, California. She was just a few miles away from Santa Barbara, which surely had to be total inspiration for Kinsey’s “Santa Teresa” headquarters.

Grafton was an alumnus of both the University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University, both proudly claiming her, but she earned her B.A. in English Literature from Louisville in 1961. Naturally, Louisville named her a Distinguished Alumnus in 1993, after she was well into her alphabet mysteries. She amassed numerous other awards of course, but there’s something special when your alma mater pays heed to your career accomplishments.

We first met Kinsey, err, Sue, in 1982 with “A” is for Alibi, and it didn’t take long before readers were clamoring for “B,” then “C,” and so forth. Just four months ago, on August 22, 2017, to be exact, Marian Wood Books/Putnam released “Y” is for Yesterday as she progressed near her intended series conclusion.

Different from the overarching upbeat narrative usually related by Kinsey Millhone, the plot and numerous twists within “Y” is for Yesterday almost gave readers, or at least just speaking for myself, the feeling that something was not quite right about the feel to the story. It was so dark, so painful, and more intricate than the usually more lighthearted tone of her stories.

Not that murder is in any way lighthearted in fiction or in real life, but ever before, even on Kinsey’s tougher cases, her outlook remained determined and optimistic, to solve the unsolvable, and this time, in “Y,” it just seemed like we were dragged into quicksand and the plot didn’t advance in its usual way. I’d already pronounced that opinion, if only to myself, when I read it a few months ago, and wondered what “Z” would be like.

It’s understandable, too, that if you’d been battling cancer for two years, your outlook wouldn’t be Kinsey’s usual style as well. She did, however, resolve her case, and only “Z” remained before she’d gone from A to Z, truly.

I remember reading on Amazon Smile, when I’d ordered my copy of “Y,” what was said of that volume:

“Of #1 New York Times-bestselling author Sue Grafton, NPR's Maureen Corrigan said, “Makes me wish there were more than 26 letters.” With only one letter left, Grafton's many devoted readers will share that sentiment.”

Random fans were suggesting Grafton could begin with “1,” and go forward in numerical series, or whatever else she dreamed up as a new series. Grafton’s writing was not limited to the Kinsey Millhone mysteries. Her official Web site, is well worth visiting to get to know better a woman who kept us all entertained for 35 years.

One additional important component of enjoying Sue Grafton novels are the audio versions available from, as well as the other usual Web sources. Audiobook narrator Judy Kaye has been the single, consistent “voice” of Kinsey Millhone, on all of Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. Speaking personally, there is no other “voice of the voice,” than Judy Kaye. For those who share my love of the audible version of Grafton’s books, you’ll enjoy this transcript of a 2010 interview conducted by writer Mary Frances Wilkens as she talks with both Grafton and Kaye.

Any author is typically happy when their book is published in one language, but Sue Grafton achieved the penultimate accomplishment: “…published in 28 countries and 26 languages—including Estonian, Bulgarian, and Indonesian.” With millions of readers whose lives she touched, it won’t be long before everyone relocates their copies of their old hardbacks and starts all over again with “A.”

To recap, in case you’d forgotten:

A is for Alibi

B is for Burglar

C is for Corpse

D is for Deadbeat

E is for Evidence

F is for Fugitive

G is for Gumshoe

H is for Homicide

I is for Innocent

J is for Judgment

K is for Killer

L is for Lawless

M is for Malice

N is for Noose

O is for Outlaw

P is for Peril

Q is for Quarry

R is for Richochet

S is for Silence

T is for Trespass

U is for Undertow

V is for Vengeance

X is …just X

Y is for Yesterday

And Z….was meant to be “Z" is for Zero, according to Grafton’s husband, Steven Humphrey.

I propose instead, with all presumptive nerve I have in me, that “Z” instead should be titled as “Z" is for Zenith, because once you’ve reached the top of your profession, there is no additional place to go, once you’ve achieved your zenith.

Sue had said and done all that she needed to say, really, and those of us who’d become so attached to Kinsey are left with the infinite possibilities of devising our own stories and creating our own plots that we think might have made for an exciting “Z.”

This beautiful photo of the author was captured by Gino Domenico (for AP), taken on Oct. 15, 2002 in New York. Original can be found here. Sue Grafton left the writers in each of us with…inspiration.

Thank you so much, Sue Grafton, for 35 years of quality writing, brilliant plots, quirky characters, and for sharing with all women that if you choose to rush through lunch (or dinner) on a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese, Fries, and a Coke, you can begin your morning with a three-mile run on the beach, shower, and still fit into that all-purpose little black dress and make it in time to your next formal event…safely. Godspeed and God bless you, Sue Grafton.

Case closed.

Respectfully submitted,

Dawn Lee Wakefield (for Kinsey Millhone)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Finding an Angel on Christmas Day

This story begins as many have in years past, with my friend Mildred, but it has a far different ending than you’d expect, if you’ve been following this Christmas tradition for a few years. This Christmas, I was actually planning on mixing up my usual routine, determined to begin some new traditions while ending others I’d outgrown. I’d saved all my holiday cards to open for this day, and started a lovely pile (which as yet remain unopened) and placed presents off to the right so I’d have something special to see today.

As a child, Mom would always allow me to open one of her gifts to me on Christmas Eve, so my wait for Santa wouldn’t be so tough. I don’t know how she managed to do it, but she created magic every year. Her sense of pageantry, ceremony, stories, songs we played on my record player, and her retelling of her rituals as a child was part of our grand tradition. I’m lucky that I’m now the repository of all her generation’s stories, as nothing was written down (who had time?). Today, only two of her generation are left to recall life, but only from where their memories begin. Lesson to others: share your stories with those who care!

Christmas Eve decorations included a small chapel, a nativity scene surrounding it, and an angel statuette she added from the what-not shelf, deciding it belonged there. It was fun to assemble the setting and my earliest learned duties were the “mechanical things” (now this meant assembling the color wheel to shine on an aluminum tree), which meant I got the box out of the closet, pulled out the motor platform, located the wingnut and secured it atop the color wheel.

I realize that’s not brain surgery, but when your mom spends time affirming your skills when you even know what a wingnut is, you just tend to feel good about yourself, albeit modestly so. Before anyone says “aww,” that aluminum was not a “real” tree, bottom line was that I had a major childhood severe allergy to cedar, pine, and fir trees. Flocked trees were fine, but those had faded from easy availability. The aluminum tree was the preferred medium for celebration and you really should have seen that color wheel at work! Stop laughing. It was pretty! I’ve outgrown those allergies, fortunately.

Today it was time for another tradition, the annual visit with Mildred, my 102.5-year-old friend, over at one of the local nursing facilities. It’s been exceedingly hard this year because I feared what condition I might find her in, and as much as I adore her, she used to say quite adamantly, “When I can’t be myself, I don’t want to be here!” And the last time I saw her with a mutual friend, she was sleeping through most of the day and neither of us expected it to be that much longer. We were both wrong.

Expecting to see what I’d seen before, I’d written out a simple note on a small greeting card that had two angels on it. Her quarters include a corkboard where special items can be pinned, so this was the first year I showed up without an angel gift. My intention was to pin her card to her corkboard in the suite where triangularly placed curtains turned one suite into three private sleeping areas, and then just sit quietly by her bedside, not expecting her to know whether I was there. I was wrong, which pleased me greatly.

When I arrived on her floor, I asked the LVN in the hall which room she might be resting in, the LVN smiled readily and said, “Oh no, she’s down in the dining room, eating dinner.” I said “What? In the dining room? Sitting up?” With my two-word sentences, the LVN was so polite when she could easily have dismissed my astonishment as ignorance. Eagerly, I bounded down the hallway and saw her propped up in a rolling chair almost as big as she was, bigger perhaps.

She spotted me quickly and seemed pleased for a moment, but the joy turned just as quickly to displeasure. Her face grimaced a little, but I didn’t take it personally because when I can’t figure something out right away either, I’m told I look unhappy, disappointed, or something else when I’m working through a puzzle in my mind, until I understand it. So, that’s where she was in the process. A kind LVN had charge of feeding Mildred, another lady who enjoyed a nap between bites and a sweet gentleman I’ve seen before who’d cleared his plate. This is a unique arrangement around a semicircular table, but it works well.

I didn’t say much as Mildred was gradually taking the forks of food that the LVN was silently counting that each patient took. She’d look over now and then, and all I’d do is smile reassuringly. Some of the words she said rapidly didn’t make sense but then she got into a flow of some and they weren’t directed at me. Her handsome LVN probably had more of her attention, understandably.

Eventually, I opened her card for her and she saw the angel, and didn’t seem pleased either. I asked her, “Do you like it? It’s an angel!” And her answer was direct, “No!!” Hmm. Okay. Granted it wasn’t the clearest angel drawing, but it was pretty and colorful, old-fashioned card. I stayed consistently calm and just smiled. Mildred’s table’s LVN was pretty patient, all things notwithstanding and I thought about the fortitude it takes to find victories in every bite when they’re not supposed to be emotionally attached to the patients. The compassion of LVNs in general and especially those who are away from their families on Christmas seems endless.

Realizing that I was not going to see Mildred break through and recognize me this visit, I didn’t feel like I’d failed to generate the awareness. Instead, I had already made peace with my joy just to see her upright in a chair when she surprised me. Her right arm reached out for the iced tea cup that was on her tray and she grasped it expertly and slowly drew it to her, taking a good sip, and then replaced it on the table without spilling. I was blown away. At 102.5 years old, I wasn’t expecting a lot in muscle coordination or spatial cognition, to be frank. Then again, she’s a lady who always does the unexpected, her signature, if only to defy preconceptions, ha.

The LVN said, “You can take her down the hall to the table in front of the nurse’s station.” I looked at Mildred and said, “Would it be okay with you if I took you down the hall?” She looked at me and nodded “yes,” with just one nod. The LVN quizzed me and I said, “She’s not remembering me yet and I want to make sure she trusts me first before I take her anywhere.” He absorbed my delay and started down the hall with Lady 20Winks. I followed and gently tried to guide the challenging rolling chair down the hallway, locating her in front of the TV.

Over the next 30 minutes, together we watched the Hallmark movie, “Coming Home for Christmas,” (2017), where brothers portrayed by Neal Bledsoe and Andrew Francis (I know, Who? It’s okay they’re Hallmarkers) fall in love with Danica McKellar over her two-week stint as a house manager, because that’s the storyboard (see photo). I’m not mocking; I’m admitting the fact that I’d already “heard” this one more than once. Scoff if you wish, but it helps to keep blood pressure low to have the Hallmark Channel on in the background vs. the news channels, trust me. During the commercials, I’d placed the angel card on the table, to her right, not too close.

Out of what she thought was my gaze, she extended her hand and brought the card closer to her but not too close. Expressing interest was a big win for me. Actually, her still being here to visit with in person was the biggest gift of all. As much as I try not to think of “the last,” at this point it became clear that she was safe, warm, and comfortable, except when another LVN attempted to take her blood pressure. She wasn’t having any of it and the LVN had to come back. Gently, sweetly and determined, the LVN was victorious, but Mildred had to give up her “other arm” to get a good reading. Her vitals were vital alright.

At the movie’s end, I decided that Mildred still didn’t know me, so I prepared to leave. As I put on my scarf and jacket, her face grew displeased, and I just kept smiling. I said, “Merry Christmas, Mildred” and she didn’t respond. That was okay. I understand. I said it again and did not attempt to hug or kiss her as I usually did. She didn’t know me and it would not have been safe for her. I did gently touch her shoulder briefly as I walked down the hallway. I paused, looked back, and she was following me with her eyes. I smiled again, waved, and blew her a kiss, saying “Merry Christmas” as I left.

The visit was a gift she gives me each year at this time. I am the recipient of her love each time I see her, sometimes specifically, other times indirectly. For years when she lived in her apartment on 29th Street, and in the adult residential community that has changed names three times but maintains its original beauty, it had simply become a joy to call her about 8 pm on Christmas night. It was after we’d both done our things, and I’d greet her with, “Is it still Christmas where you are?” and she’d reply, “It sure is, come on over!”

That’s when we would exchange our gifts for each other and have a cup of something I’d bring in from Starbucks or McDonald's (whichever was open), and she’d show me all the things she’d received that year and the cards were legendary. When I got back home each time, I felt like it had truly been Christmas for me.

But that’s not the end of the story.

As I prepared to exit the front door of the Adult Assisted Living Center, a happy lady came in first, carrying a plastic laundry basket of folded (warm) blankets. I imagined she was going to visit a relative with her favorite blankets all cleaned. As I made my way to my car out front, I saw a woman with white hair, walking strongly enough while using a walker, and she was making regular forward progress down the sloped driveway. I sensed immediately that this wasn’t a 'good thing.'

Just the fact that it was now a few minutes after 7 p.m. and dark outside, and the lady was going off into the cold (53°F) with a mid-length coat and no headwear bothered me. My first thought, sadly, was “She’s a runner!” There’s no one that I’m aware of in this facility who is under medical watch in terms of their worrying the patient might “up and leave,” as we say here in the south. I called out, gently, “Merry Christmas,” but she didn’t hear me.

Now, ask yourself what your thoughts would have been had you seen this woman on a walker, in the dark, on Christmas evening in bitter cold, oh yes, in a highly trafficked hospital section of Bryan with lots of dark places where miscreants can wreak havoc. The first thing I did was use my phone to look up the number of the main line inside the building. After 10 rings, I told the operator that I feared seeing “a runner” from their facility. She said I had the “Other side” of the facility and needed to call so-and-so phone number. I dialed. Let it ring 25 times, and it went into fail mode with the recording, “This wireless caller isn’t available.” Dad gum it.

I googled another number and called it. Woman answered and I explained I was concerned about the welfare of someone who might be one of their patients. She said, “You’ve reached the hospital, you need to call over there.” I explained that I’d already made two unanswered phone calls and she gave me two more numbers to try, both one digit apart from the other. No answer on either. Arrgh.

Watching to see whether the lady was going to try and cross 29th Street, my heart was in my mouth and I said out loud, “Lord, please don’t let her try to cross the street, please don’t let her cross the street.” The way the diminished traffic was scooting down the slick streets scared me. No answer at the now fourth and fifth phone numbers. I took off out of the parking lot, determined to see where she was heading so I could then reach out and get Bryan PD, because I was concerned for her safety, truly. I had punched up 911 in the phone but before I could push the button, I recalled that I should use the nonemergency number.

I saw the driveway of the nearby dialysis center and miraculously, there was no traffic coming toward me, so I gently glided into the driveway before she could reach that intersection. I didn’t proceed very far up the driveway and put the car in park, opened the door and waited a second for her. She didn’t seem scared at all and I kept smiling the whole time, the way I had with the unresponsive Mildred just moments earlier.

When she saw me, she smiled an angelic smile back my way and I said, “Good evening, Ma’am; Merry Christmas!” and she said, “To you, too.” I said, “My name is,,,,” introducing myself. “Do you live over at ***" (name of the place withheld)? And she said, “No, but I just came from there,” smiling. I asked, “Where do you live?” and she told me. I smiled and said, “I have many friends who’ve lived there, and would you please allow me to drive you the rest of the way home? It’s so cold out right now.”

And she smiled like an angel, I promise you! She said, “That would be so nice. Thank you very much.” And, so I said, “Wonderful, we’ll go now.” And she trusted me enough to get in my vehicle. I knew she had more trust in me than I could have ever hoped for. Had she continued to walk home, she’d have had to cross one of the single biggest intersections in town, and there were lights to cross at, to be sure, but they would only illuminate her visibility as a target for someone who might not have good intentions. She didn’t have a purse on her that I saw, but I’ll also suggest that unkind folks don’t always use good judgment in picking a target for harm, either.

All I could think of was that it was probably a year ago that I learned that a 95+-year-old woman was mugged right outside of our church, on a Sunday morning in broad daylight, for her purse. She was walking across the street from her parking spot near church to come in to worship service and…well, she wound up in the hospital and we were only four blocks away from the Bryan Police Station, too. Maybe now my excessive concern for her safety and well-being makes more sense. Even though I call this community “Mayberry,” times are when it is not.

I just felt like I wanted to reassure this angel that she was okay, but she actually seemed so tranquil and at peace that it was only for my sense of wanting her to know that no harm would come her way. I told her my name (again) and asked hers. She told me and immediately it sounded familiar. I said, “I was a little worried when I saw you walking home in the dark and it was so cold.” She said, “Well, ordinarily it wouldn’t be this late when I came home but I have a friend over there and I just HAD to get her Christmas present to her. I’d thought about it earlier today but decided it was Christmas, after all, and she had to have her gift. It's Christmas!”

She told me her friend’s name and said how she was just temporarily in the PT/rehab area of the residence but that she lived back in her community. As I noodled my way around the dialysis parking lot I thought there might be a back way out. There wasn’t. I said, “Well, I don’t know this parking lot!” cheerfully, and just as cheerfully she said, “Oh that’s okay, we’ll go back the way we came.”

I said, “Your name sounds so familiar to me,” and she explained she was retired A&M faculty. I then asked the department and all at once it hit me…she was one of the earliest female full professors at A&M in a technical area. Turns out, further, that I knew one of her (late) colleagues well, and as we talked she was great friends with my major professor in chemistry and knew his entire family. She was sharp as a tack mentally and even knew the latest sad news about the loss of one of our mutual friends. She regaled me with a cute description of the great sense of humor “the boss” had.

The return trip home took less than four minutes in the car, but even with direct path and lights, walking would have consumed probably fifteen or twenty more minutes in the elements. When we pulled up in front, I opened her door and then got the walker back out. She said, “If you’re ever around on the 4th Thursday of the month, please let me treat you to dinner here. It’s 'Friends and Family night' here and sometimes they even have entertainment. Sometimes it's good; other times it's not."

I was very familiar with the night and the entertainment aspect because I’d been to those several times with Mildred over the years and an adoptive grandmother before Mildred had ever moved in. I thanked her but didn’t give her a card with my name on it, as I didn’t plan to follow up and accept her offer, just wanted to get her safely home.

As I opened the door to the front of the residential center, I nodded at the receptionist by the door before taking leave. I was so grateful that she was home safely, that she would be warm, and I had a chance driving home to reflect on the gift of love that this woman had shown to her friend in the rehab/PT hospital. She asked for no help from anyone. She didn’t seem to be the type of person who had a dependent bone in her body. She just wanted to make sure her dear friend was remembered on Christmas. She was a living angel in a human body.

My heart was full and at peace because I knew she was safe and that was all I could ask for. I feared first that she was a runaway and I feared next that she’d be hit in traffic and I feared further of someone knocking her on the head. So, there she forged forward without fear and I was wallowing in fear for her. Which one of us was the wiser? Clearly, she was.

Today, thanks to a few other search tools to which I have access, I saw it. She’s 88 years old, and her only concern in the world was to make sure her friend didn’t miss Christmas. In actual fact, she was the angel who made certain I didn’t miss Christmas either. I am forever grateful for that random happenstance. It was, truly, a very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

With Love, Remembering Keely Smith

I have never created the popular to-do list before I die, better known as a bucket list. However, two weeks ago, members of a team I belong to were asked what was on our bucket list. At the time, I said, “Nothing. If it all ended tomorrow, I’m good.”

And I felt confident about that profound conclusion…until this morning, when I’d learned that America had lost one of its most priceless treasures, jazz vocalist Keely Smith. She died in Palm Springs yesterday at the age of 89. She’s not a trending topic on Facebook at all today, but in my heart she’s one of the best singers I’ve ever enjoyed in my lifetime.

Learning of her passing reminded me that, apparently, I did have a bucket list, and it had one thing on it: to see Keely live in concert if ever she did one again. A few years ago, she managed to do one concert a year, in Palm Springs, California, but time and circumstances had never jived together for me to be there when she was.

I’d even set a Songkick alert for her, an Internet gem that would conduct a daily scan of concert tours by favorite artists. Alongside all the contemporary searches I had set for artists closer to my generation, Keely was right in there, and I was delighted. Reminder notices every now and then would tell me that the alert was still active but, so far, no concerts were slated.

My first introduction to this amazing song stylist began as a bonus from a holiday party my parents had hosted for family. Adult beverages were limited to eggnog, but there were two bowls, one with and without a kick. The kick of course came from Bacardi rum, and apparently when you bought the bottle of Bacardi, they gave away a free music album. I got the “without” eggnog and custody of the 33 and 1/3 album (score!). Taking my harmless brew back to my room, I put the album on the turntable and found jazz. I found adult contemporary, big band, jazz guitar instrumentalists, and four-part harmony, all on one album.

The first artist featured on the liner notes is my favorite of the group assembled, and yes, mark age four as the time I’d begun reading the liner notes on my albums. (Okay, so maybe I looked at the pictures and stared at the names, but soon, I’d be reading those things.) Keely Smith’s smiling face showed a young woman with short black hair and bangs, wearing a crisp white shirt. When I heard her sing “Fools Rush In,” crisp would be an appropriate way to describe the level of perfection she had when she sang. Her fluid vocals literally lilted their way to the surface and there was strong power within her expert phrasing.

Other artists on the list included Harry James (“Cherry”), Laurindo Almeida (“Fly me to the Moon,” yes please!), Jack Jones (“This Could Be The Start of Something Big,” which it was before he was to become most famous for singing the theme song to TV’s “The Love Boat” a “few” years later. Jonah Jones did “On The Street Where You Live,” and Al Martino crooned the “Painted, Tainted Rose.”

The first ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba’s I heard did not belong to the Beach Boys, thank you very much. They came from The Four Freshmen on "The Girl from Ipanema." Woody Herman’s “Woodchopper’s Ball” became an “I can name that song in five notes” piece for me, and I recognized it when Gene, Gene, The Dancin' Machine, came out dancing when Chuck Barris needed a time stretch on "The Gong Show." The album also included Stan Kenton’s “End of a Love Affair”; the great Ray Anthony did “Charade,” and George Shearing offered “September Song.”

There was also a helpful little paragraph about what a Bacardi Party was, but I could have cared less as I was happily ensconced in my ultra hi-fidelity album played through the little child’s record player that was advanced enough to deliver the sound.

But back to Keely. Most of the television shows she would have made selected appearances on, at the time, were past my bedtime, so it would be a few years before I ever got to see her, although many of her songs would play on our adult contemporary stations, alongside Elvis, Andy Williams, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Mathis, et al. The Beatles were still busy in their cave, or cavern, as it were.

In 1970, I read in my vast collection of TV guides that it was former CBS Programming executive Fred Silverman who’d (re-)discovered Sonny & Cher, having seen their live stage act in Las Vegas, and he knew it would be perfect for television. Fred, to our mutual joy, was right and hundreds of hours of happy programming later, we have The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, now on DVD.

But, their Vegas act was actually inspired, and to a large extent borrowed, precisely from the style between Keely and her husband, dynamic bandleader Louis Prima. If you watch this one video of “Up a Lazy River,” focus on Keely, her standing in the background while Louis yucks it up and has a blast.

Now, fast forward to 1974, and watch the looks Cher gives Sonny and Sonny’s happy-go-lucky mannerisms and fun while singing. So, the success of their TV show, which began in Las Vegas, owes much of its style and thanks to Keely and Louis, and they said so often in interviews.

All the usual publications will fill you in on the specific Keely Smith details such as being born Dorothy Jacqueline Keely, and she started singing professionally at age 15. Not only did she collaborate with Louis Prima on some of her most famous duets, she sang with Frank Sinatra and released albums with the Nelson Riddle Orchestra and Billy May & His Orchestra.

She won a Grammy award (together with Louis for “That Old Black Magic,” for best pop vocal performance by a duo or group), and she’s in the Grammy Hall of Fame. A 2001 album, “Keely Sings Sinatra,” was also Grammy nominated.

But let’s talk about how this amazing woman had such a crisp, clear, clean voice that made it seem effortless for her to take lyrics and make them come alive. Her beautiful voice took a standard song we knew well, and she made it her own each time.

She had such talent and yet as time and life would come her way, she appeared to remain absolutely the same person, one that fame left untouched. She and Louis had two children together and she seemed to enjoy her life out of the spotlight, but not out of the hearts and minds of those who got to hear her.

In 2008, Keely showed she still had ever that same vocal power, when they paired her with Kid Rock at the Grammy Awards, and he was clearly outclassed vocally, and botched the lyrics and phrasing beyond repair, but as a pro, she stayed right with him. Of course, you’ll notice saxophonist Dave Koz taking Sam Butera’s part for the song.

Reflecting on the life and talent of this wonderful singer, I’ll just share this and leave it right here, as the kids say today. Keely Smith, singing one arrangement of “I Wish You Love,” with Nelson Riddle & his orchestra. Thanks for your sharing your gifts and talent with all of us, Keely. We wish you love, too.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Office Max

Today is one of the saddest days in recent memory—it’s the day they closed the doors, forever, on the Office Max in College Station, Texas. Yes, to those who consider far more serious matters of great world importance, including world peace, tax bills, and football playoffs, this is entirely trivial, but not to me. I have a longstanding love affair with office supplies.

It began with a childhood love of school and my dear mother’s willingness to indulge my request for Hefty #2 pencils and Big Chief tablets if I explained that “I really needed them.”

Those who knew me then recall I would spend an hour selecting a school binder, the right color for the zippered pencil case with the holes punched in for your notebook, the tabs for subject dividers, the favorite colors of anchor lead Husky #2 pencils by Empire, and, of course, the size of Big Chief tablet I felt comfortable with.

After mastering the big pencils, it was a pencil with our school name on it that I could get for five cents in the school office. Sometimes, I’d treat myself and use my allowance on some Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils from Handy-Andy or others from Winn’s 5&10 would delight. I might purchase an extra school practice book (my mother should have known the signs of a nerd by then) from Kresge’s.

All these brands would occupy my thoughts until I learned the beauty of pens. In elementary school, it was Venus Max colored drawing pencils for the geography maps we had to draw. Then, in high school, we used Paper Mate Flair pens and stippling pens for bio drawings. The ballpoint Paper Mate stick pens with the pretty blue barrels and the blue caps had seen me through high school notes.

With my transition into engineering classes, I felt a close kinship with Pilot Razor Point fineline markers. The pen tips, though, eventually got worn and crushed, and there was nothing more fun than a new pen, for $.79 (at the local college bookstore). Color choices abounded, and this was before they sold multipacks. You can’t take notes with the wrong pen! Later on, I'd find the Pilot V's to my liking. Fellow supply lovers are nodding their heads in agreement. Others are forgiving when I opine on office supplies.

I still remember how I felt in the 70s when Engineering and Office Supply (EOS) closed their Redmond Terrace location. I found my first Pentel automatic pencils there (0.5 HB lead for the black barrel, and 0.7HB lead for the blue barrel). This is far worse. I like to browse selections of pens plus I’m picky about computer paper (how many nerds look for the brightness rating and weight on your laser paper?). I love having an assortment of jumbo paper clips in a cute new container every now and again. Back in October, I learned the news that my Office Max store had been slated to close by the end of the year. I was devastated.

Why should it matter that the “Max” store is closing when the parent company “Depot” remains open less than one mile away? Because the two stores are similar only in the word “Office.” There is a world of difference in the personnel who staffed my Office Max and the very nice folks at Office Depot. Depot staff are competent and pleasant; Max staff/team members were extraordinary.

Customer service isn’t just a department to call; it’s a philosophy of a store that’s reflected in every aspect of their operations. Such was my Office Max. If you’re local and you’ve shopped at either one or both, quick—can you recall the names of the folks who work in the different departments?

Perhaps that’s an unfair question if you’re not an authentic office supply junkie. Maybe you don’t have to have anything but what you walk around and pick up off the shelves. Maybe you have a box of 12 pen refills that last you a year as you don’t care what kind of pen you write with or whether your legal pads are narrow ruled, wide ruled, or quadrille ruled. There are needs, you know, for all three categories. Well, there are! No, I’m not kidding.

This Max was a team, a family, and collective group of kind professionals who gathered to help every customer with the same level of expertise and professionalism, and we were all special to them.

It started with Carlos, a manager with years of office supply experience. He helped me decide between four different HP printers that I was considering, as he knew my typical page prints, based on how often I bought reams of paper at Max.

Carlos put me in the computer chair of my dreams when I came into the store too tired to shop but I needed something. I collapsed into one that looked comfortable, only to realize I’d left a key coupon at home and the sale on the chair would be ending that day.

He said, “No worries, I’ve got you, and I know you won’t use the coupon for anything else.” I reassured him I wouldn’t and he not only gave me the floor model, he even found a very creative way to get it into my jaunty little sports car (thing of the past) to boot! Customer service, Max style. Happened all the time.

By the way, the words “some assembly required” are fine when it’s children’s toys that need assembling. I once had a $39 failure trying to build the “Easy-to-assemble” two-shelf bookcase from Depot. Since I didn’t own a power drill, my Phillips head screwdriver, channel locks, and hammer were not enough for the job, and out it went to heavy trash day, along with a few tears and a few choice words said outside of the earshot of the dog.

For computer choices, if you don’t know how to "build your own" on the various techno websites, and you must own a Windows system, because you work in a Windows world, when everyone else tells you at least once a day that their Apple MacBook Pro never has the problems you are having. Right? Anyway, if you want a Windows system and you, like virtually everyone else in town, have vowed never to set foot into Best Buy ever, ever again…you could go to Max and have Harrison talk you through the best system available at the best price at the time. Harrison never steered me wrong, computers, peripherals, routers, and without seeing my full system, was the troubleshooter when my three-screen view went down to two. I thought I'd have to spend at least $200 on a new monitor. He said, "It's probably the USB to VGA connector that failed." Try that first, and though they didn't have one in stock at Max, the web site did! Two fast days later, no new monitor required, and a net savings of $160.

It’s not just about selling you technology. It’s about service after the sale. Two years ago, I bought a 1TB portable hard drive. In fact I bought two of them at the same time, as they were on sale for $89 each. Cute little red My Passport Ultras, from Western Digital. Oh don't I sound like I know what I'm talking about? You betcha! They teach as well as advise at Max.

On a business trip in November, to my dismay when I connected my portable hard drive to my travel computer, the error “Cannot read hard drive” came up. Fortunately I could access my files to work on from a different source but certainly the hard drive was the repository for lots of photos I determined to keep, but not on my desktop because of the space required. When I returned to B-CS, I promptly went up on Sunday afternoon with the hard drive, and was delighted to find Harrison working that day. I explained my dilemma and told him I’d located a program online that could help recover, data but it was $98 and I wasn’t willing to buy what I wasn’t sure would work or try to use it without knowing how to prep a new drive to receive the transferred information.

Harrison said, “leave your drive with me and let me see what I can do.” Four hours later I came back and he said, “I found a program online that only cost $79 (instant savings of $17!) and I downloaded it and am running it on your drive right now. It’s going to have to run overnight, but it will be fine here. Check in tomorrow by phone and I’ll tell you how far along it is. The next morning at 8 am he said it would be about 6 pm that night before it was finished and in case his manager sent him home, he’d come back and make sure it finished, on his own time.

Sure enough, Harrison had too many hours in to remain on the clock that day but on his own time, he came back and finished it up and then showed me how he’d partitioned the new drive for me and where the data was (divided by recovery into four segments). Well, this may all be gobbledygook to you, but to me it was irreplaceable photographs and memories I’d never see again if they weren’t recovered. That kind of above and beyond service wasn’t just for me. I was one of many, many regulars this Max store had. He also knew that a full-time writer and editor couldn't last long without her files. And whether or not he was on the clock didn't matter to him. I was his customer.

Two years ago, when Gen. Joe Hanover was alive, and he had put me through the first revision of his life story, where he thought he just wanted the old coil binding unwound and some new pages slipped in, haha, we went to Copy Max (the print center inside Office Max) and the manager, Art, met him and shared with him how they could transform his project into something befitting a general.

Art and Joe became good friends and probably four reorders of a large number of copies ensued before Joe was ready to go to hardback printing. But Art always addressed Joe as “General,” and his dear Michelle, by name. They weren’t the regular customers I was, but the point is that Art and his team remembered all their customers by name.

Then there’s my patronage of CopyMax. With no disrespect to any other independent proprietor in town, who do fantastic work and support this community, I loved my CopyMax and wouldn’t go anywhere else. No matter how much I don’t know about the world of “what you can do” in document design (I write the words, I don’t do the layout), Chris solved my problems with such kindness and courtesy.

He kept up with all my projects (and I had a ton of them), and he’d ask me how my clients’ projects were advancing. How he kept all that in his head, along with that of the entire customer base they had, is amazing. Chris graduated from Texas A&M today and is going to Depot down the block. Keep in mind my print and copy projects now belong to Depot, as long as Chris is there.

Then, there’s one of the key managers, Mike, who is well known and beloved in this community. He was the most capable, thoughtful assistant manager in the grocery stores formerly known as Appletree (previously owned by Safeway), and our small town friendly atmosphere kept people going to Appletree. Eventually they sold to Village Foods and Mike kept things going well. It was a great day to see him in Office Max and while he was there, customer service continued to be the priority. I can’t say it enough times, this group of employees was a team, unparalleled in consideration, efficiency, and good advice.

So, why the shutdown? A corporate reaction to a proposed nasty rate increase at Culpepper Plaza (or that’s what we used to call the strip development). You could almost sense it coming when the uber popular (why? It’s Aggieland) Spec’s Liquor next door relocated to the vacated Anna’s Linen’s space over in the University Drive center that holds Michael’s and Half Price Books and Records, among other stores.

It would appear that the rent increases have now caused two major stores to leave. But in Max’s case, that was all the impetus corporate needed to close my favorite office supply store. Did it make economic sense to keep Max open when Depot was just a mile down the road? Maybe not to big city executives who pore over spreadsheets and look to save costs wherever possible.

But their corporate decision took away customer service I have counted on for as many years as Max has operated in College Station. Depot here does not automatically earn my business; the print center there does, with Chris there, as he understands how to create what I need, no matter how ineptly I explain it.

And as of today, the doors are shuttered. At first they were planning to stay open until December 27, but I’ll bet the same executive team decided they didn’t want to bear holiday pay for the 25th. At least that’s the way it appears to this heartbroken, slightly bitter customer.

With Saturday, December 16, their targeted final day, clearance prices moved from 25-50-75-90% by Thursday, December 14. I went in on Thursday, and there were teams of contract people knocking down displays to transport them who knows where. Only a few display printers were left, which no one would risk buying because they carried no warranty and you know better than to buy one where Little Precious and Chip off the block Jr. have pushed the buttons nonstop when mom or dad were busy perusing the myriad of choices.

All that was left by then anyway were some great deals on a surplus of notebooks and binders and a tray of pen refills for pens I didn’t own. I went ahead and bought up many binders, intending to donate them. I wasn’t happy to see the yellow caution tape around areas where nothing was left. It felt like a crime scene with police tape marking the sections where the public was no longer allowed.

I’m almost ready to drive the 60 miles to Staples in Temple from now on to shop, because their prices aren’t as high as Depot’s are (file boxes for $13.99 vs. $35.59. My rewards account (Depot/Max) says I’m a VIP member but I was happier with my Max Perks.

I moved from Pilot Razor Points to their Roller Balls, the V rollers, the Dr. Grip’s, the Pentel Energel roller balls, and the Uni-ball 207s Micropoints. I had them all and in many colors. Don’t have a Sharpie in color? Call me, I can hook you up. Sharpies are very important. You know this.

I’d waste, er, spend, fifteen minutes staring at the pen wall in Max. Depot didn’t have that. Other times, I lived wild and bought a multipak for $6.99, in the days when I was living wildly. Pretty big risk for $6.99. Just saying. If ever I didn’t like the pens, I’d donate them to those who needed or wanted spare supplies.

Max sold refills to Keurig coffeemakers for their customers. I haven’t been in Depot recently to say whether or not they sell them too, but I don’t care. Depot has those godawful fluorescent lights in their store. Max had better lighting, better ceilings, and most of all, plenty of floor space for you to feel like you weren’t squeezed into a sardine can.

The computers on shelves at Depot are fine, but the ones that were on the custom display counters in Max made me actually think about buying one. Product selection was more expansive at Max. Depot has Depot brands, other names (Foray) that are Depot brands and Blue Sky (from China, the same brand I can get at Walgreen’s more affordably). Max had better legal pad selections.

For some reason Energizer battery selections became obscured and in Max and all you saw were Duracells, while some Energizers were still sold at Depot. That’s the only item I can think of where I’d go to Depot…the dadgum Energizer batteries. No disrespect to the cute pink bunny but the Energizers lasted longer, period.

I should be ashamed that I’ve gone on this long about an office supply store, but it was a pleasant opportunity for a writer to shop for essential supplies and beautiful presentation accoutrements that stepped up my game, I was told. When Depot “merged” with Max, I knew then that this day would ultimately arrive. I was just hoping against hope that it wouldn’t be for a far longer time.

RIP Office Max, and thank you to all the staff at the store formerly on Texas Avenue, for every professional courtesy and kindness you shared with our community. You will be remembered.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Navasota Theatre Alliance Brings Christmas Spirit with Hilarity in "A Tuna Christmas"

The mere mention that Navasota Theatre Alliance was staging "A Tuna Christmas" was sufficient impetus to grab tickets on whatever night they'd be available. Just a hint of the opportunity to enjoy this play made it a sold-out event for every performance before the debut. The brilliance of three creatives--Jaston Williams, Joe Sears, and Ed Howard--created the characters, and I do mean characters, of Tuna, Texas, and you'll meet a total of 22 characters (portrayed by just four actors) in "A Tuna Christmas."

Hilarious writing makes for some of the most rib-splitting monologues. Four actors, J. Paul Teel, Scott McDuffie, David Brown, and Kevin Parker offered their talents and created theatre magic. They were larger than life in dead-on delivery of rapid-fire dialogue so fast that it would bring a tear to Aaron Sorkin's eyes. Director Mark Taylor was perfect in capturing every aspect of this performance to stay true to the original.

If you're a veteran of Tuna, you know the slogan of Didi's Used Weapons, you know the cause that Petey Fisk makes his own, you know the names of the two girls at the Tasty Creme, and can't stop laughing every time they answer the phone.

J. Paul Teel as Arles Struvie and Scott McDuffie as Bertha Bumiller are brilliant, David Brown knocks it out of the park as all three children in the Bumiller family, and Kevin Parker as Farley (and Phoebe!) Burkhalter had people shaking with laughter.

J. Paul Teel as Petey Fisk said it well, "...Skunks are moody, raccoons are self-centered and wild hogs have a zero success rate as yard pets."

It's hard to pick a favorite character, but of all seven that J. Paul Teel portrayed, probably Didi Snively takes the will not be able to hold it together when she sings Christmas carols, dripping in long pauses for drags on her imaginary cigarettes...when she swears, I swear you are going to lose it.

I'd always heard what a great actor he is, but this was my first time to see him in action. Scott McDuffey expertly delivered the rapid speech of Thurston Wheelis, and yet he seemed like an entirely separate actor when portraying Aunt Pearl Burras.

Costuming was brilliant, hilarious, and you will just have to see for yourself, because I'm not giving a thing away for all the rest of the sold-out audiences to enjoy if they're Tuna newbies.

Staging was genius--sets were minimalist but convincing. Transitions between scenes were nothing short of expert. I've never seen knock down and set up move so fast, and it took only two people less than one minute between acts, barely enough time for costume changes you'd think.

After the show my friends and I decided that the beauty of the superb story tonight rested in the message that all of us who exist in a small town or separate microcosm of the universe live and work here, flawed as we are, gifted as we are, hopeful as we are, and sometimes just trying to get through the day know one thing to be the end of the road is always love, compassion, caring, understanding and...peace.

As Mark Taylor ends his show notes, the way Petey ends his Christmas PSA, ..."Peace on Earth, good will to everybody. I never get tired of hearing that." Neither do we, Petey. Neither do we.

Bad news: This show is sold out. 100%. Every night from here forward. All you can do is get to the theatre and pray someone is a no show. By the way, snow didn't stop anyone from getting to the theatre on time. Every seat was filled.

Special thanks to the primary sponsor of this show, Trinity Heads, Inc. in Navasota--if you've ever set foot in a chemical plant, you know that a head is an expertly designed and manufactured pressure vessel cover...Trinity Heads leads the industry and they're based right there in Navasota. Additional funding came from the Hotel Tax Revenue funded through the City of Navasota through their Arts Council of Navasota. Many individuals contribute from $35 to over $5,000 a year supporting this organization.

Special recognition is due to Navasota city leaders (and the Navasota Grimes County Chamber of Commerce) for making their population of around 7500 blow the doors off the arts...nonprofits are thriving there. You know there's something special when people will drive 30-40 mins from here to be there. They also host their annual state-of-the-art legendary Navasota Blues Festival there. Don't look now, but they are doing some serious trailblazing over there. B-CS is truly grateful for everything they offer to all of us to enjoy. You keep doing what you're doing and we'll drive over to be with you for it. We will, we will.

To join the group of people who loves what they're doing, visit Navasota Theatre Alliance and Tuna, Texas-- a winning combination.

It is. It is. It is. It is. ....It is! Bravo to all.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Walt Disney and Buddy Ebsen — Two of a Kind from Frontierland to Happily Ever After

Walter Elias “Walt” Disney was born 116 years ago today. In 1901 our country was in the Second Industrial Revolution, or “Technological Revolution,” and the United States was about to experience major changes in how things were made. At this exciting time of exploring the unknown, time, creativity, and imagination were three of the most important assets anyone could have.

The first cartoon or animated film was credited to Emile Cohl, a French animator in 1908, the same year Christian Ludolf “Buddy” Ebsen was born. In 1928, at age 27, Walt Disney released “Steamboat Willie,” featuring the product of his wonderful imagination: Mickey Mouse.

Eight years later, Buddy Ebsen would star alongside his sister Vilma Ebsen and Eleanor Powell in “Broadway Melody of 1936.” In the iconic YouTube clip, Buddy is proudly wearing a Mickey Mouse sweater as he sang and danced his way into American’s hearts, never then realizing what was to come.

In 1951, according to an article in D23, the Disney publication, “Walt Disney hired Buddy to demonstrate a dance routine; the dance was filmed, and Walt’s crew analyzed the action, frame by frame, to devise a way to animate a nine-inch figure with the same movements.” The actual date of 1951 is subject to correction as a display of Project Little Man notes the year 1949 when Buddy was hired to dance against the grid. It makes sense that he began the process in 1949 and it took the engineers at least two years to go from drawing to reality figure.

The endeavor was called “Project Little Man” and morphed into Disney’s “Audio-Animatronics®” that would become the precursor for Disney theme park exhibits including “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.” In “To Dad with Love: Finding Buddy Ebsen,” Kiki remembers that when Buddy would take the children to Disneyland, he paused for the longest time, reflecting at the Mr. Lincoln exhibit, yet never saying a word to them about his role in the entire process.

The blog “The Wonder of Miniatures” recently shared this photo and the story from a plaque in the Walt Disney Imagineering Collection.

Buddy and Walt enjoyed a personal friendship as well as a great professional relationship. Here’s a photo where Buddy is showing Walt Disney and others a few dance steps, with Walt trying them out.

In 1954, Walt Disney wanted Buddy Ebsen to act in a new project he was developing, considered him for the title role of Davy Crockett, in a series of TV adventures about one of his favorite folk heroes. Then, Walt saw a young actor, Fess Parker, in a two-minute scene in “Them,” a movie about an army of giant mutant ants, which starred James Arness. Soon after, Fess “became” Davy and Buddy was re-cast as Georgie Russel, Davy’s right-hand man, a journalist.

In all, there were five hour-long television episodes of “Frontierland,” introduced by Walt Disney in 1954/1955). The shows included “Davy Crockett: Indian Fighter,” “Davy Crockett Goes to Congress,” “Davy Crockett at the Alamo,” “Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race,” and “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates.”

Ultimately, they were repurposed into two feature-length cinema films (one was “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier” (1955), and “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates”), expanding the Davy Crockett craze.

Little boys from California to New York were running around in their coonskin caps, just like Davy. Record albums featured more “Davy Crockett” songs and themes, Fess Parker “received 10% of the merchandising for Disney coonskin caps and Old Betsy toy rifles,” and Buddy continued to work regularly toward his next big break, which would come via “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

On the opening day of Disneyland, July 17, 1955, Walt Disney had Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen, Ronald Reagan, and Art Linkletter on hand to welcome the crowd. Part of the ceremony is featured in this video.

As you’ll see, Walt read the dedication:

Frontierland. It is here that we experience the story of our country’s past. The color, romance, and drama of frontier America as it developed from wilderness trails to roads, riverboats, railroads, and civilization. A tribute to the faith, courage, and ingenuity of our hearty pioneers who blazed the trails and made this progress possible.

There’s a charming story told by Grenade Curran, who was a general factotum at Disneyland, about this picture, taken before the grand opening in July 1955 (L to R: Fess Parker, Walt Disney, and Buddy Ebsen).

Buddy also appeared as Sheriff Matt Brady in “Corky and the White Shadow” in 1956, and he was on the “Mickey Mouse Club.” All of this happened, by the way, before Buddy’s two youngest children, Kiki and Dustin, were even born.

On March 3, 1967, an article in Kittanning, PA’s Simpson Leader-Times (among other UPI papers) ran Vernon Scott’s story, noting “Buddy Ebsen will take time out from his highly rated “Beverly Hillbillies” series to star in the last picture on which Walt Disney’s name will be seen as producer. The story went on to note that “…It was Walt Disney who prepared and engineered every detail of his final movie,”…“The One and Only Genuine, Original Family Band” (released March 1968) as “the sort of family entertainment with which both Disney and Ebsen have been identified for three decades.

Aired first in December, 1988, Episode 19 of the Disney Family Album starred Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen, which you can see here, narrated by Buddy.

In 1993, Ebsen was inducted as a Film and Television Disney Legend, together with others who were honored for Animation–Voice, Animation & Imagineering, Film, and Administration contributions.

Here’s a photo by David McNew (all rights reserved to Getty Images) of Buddy with Roy Disney (at the time Vice Chairman of the Walt Disney Company), taken Feb. 8, 2001, in Anaheim, when Disney opened their California Adventure theme park.

Walt Disney was born in Hermosa, Illinois, on December 5, 1901, and died on December 15, 1966, having just turned 65 years old. Buddy Ebsen was born April 2, 1908, about 175 miles away, in Bellevue, Illinois. He died on July 6, 2003, at the age of 92. The world of fun family entertainment has benefited for over 50 years of combined creativity of young men who saw opportunities to pursue their passion for entertainment, love of music and dancing, and with dedication and hard work, two legends were made.

The opportunities that Walt Disney gave Buddy Ebsen to showcase his talents defined his future and his eventual career as an internationally beloved actor. Even more would Disney impact the Ebsen family. Daughter Kiki graduated in Vocal Performance from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), which was founded in 1961, by Walt and Roy Disney, when they merged two schools together. The Disney family would be a major funding source to launch CalArts into its ranking as “America’s top college for students in the arts by Newsweek.”

At the time, Walt said, “CalArts is the principal thing I hope to leave when I move on to greener pastures. If I can help provide a place to develop the talent of the future, I think I will have accomplished something.” He did. The Disney Company and all of the wonderful interactions between Buddy and Walt are featured prominently in “To Dad with Love: A Tribute to Buddy Ebsen.” A brief video EPK follows:

Kiki Ebsen’s theatre show features her vocals and storytelling, with exquisite multimedia by videographer brother Dustin Ebsen. Three musicians accompany her on the songs that span seven decades of their father’s career. The show concludes with the final image of the full-page ad that The Disney Company took out upon Buddy’s passing: it’s a drawing of Mickey Mouse, shedding a tear.

Today, we celebrate the 116th anniversary of Walt Disney’s birth. His phenomenal imagination and creative live on for many generations to come and as Kiki says, “Just because someone is out of your life, doesn’t mean they’re out of your life.” Truth.

by Dawn Lee Wakefield and Kiersten Ebsen

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Remembering David Cassidy: Actor, Musician, Songwriter, Dead at 67

Late Tuesday evening, Nov. 21, the New York Times ran the story that confirmed musician David Cassidy had died. Most poignant was the (usually) irrefutable New York Times had two corrections appended at the story’s end for accuracy.

The first error was to correct the spelling of one of David’s half-brothers, Shaun, not Sean; the second was the correct last name of David’s mother, Evelyn Ward (not Wood). As sad as David’s passing is to anyone who ever knew or cared about David as a singer, actor, songwriter, and entertainer, it’s virtually incomprehensible that there was a need for two corrections to facts that any woman over 50 would have been able to answer without Googling.

An even sadder fact is that three other NYT reporters contributed to the story. What does that say about the interest and ability to chronicle a life and legacy of an individual who brought entertainment and distraction to the lives of American (and international) teen fans for decades? It was not like Cassidy’s passing was unexpected, as false news reports had surfaced on Sunday, wrongly quoting his publicist as the source of the news that he’d died that day, “surrounded by family and close friends.”

If you grew up in the 1960s, pre-teen or not-anywhere-near-a-teen yet, you knew who David Cassidy was. Hundreds of issues of Tiger Beat, 16 Magazine, Flip, and other teen-targeted publications ran ever-changing new photos against the backdrop of re-recited family facts and one factoid for fans to take away as “new, exclusive, and tells-all.” Generally the factoids revolved around David’s fave color, the name of his dog, or that he liked to take long walks on the beach as a great first date. Sadly, if you go back and actually read the stories in the archives, you’ll see that the magazines were 95% pictures and 5% text. And as David wrote in his book, he had absolutely no time away from work for long walks on the beach.

What those publications imparted, for teenage girls in those days, was a chance in a million to “meet your idol David Cassidy” or to spend time on the set of The Partridge Family. For teenage boys, the look Cassidy projected was encouraging to those who were not going to be the star athletes of their schools. You didn’t have to spend hours pumping iron; you had to have a ready smile, play a guitar, and have a good haircut and a strand of pooka shells—all four of those achievable by virtually anyone. That was a win-win for teenagers around the world, and thus David Cassidy was welcomed, into homes every week with "The Partridge Family" on television, and blasting from portable stereos, car radios, and lunchroom transistor radios. Anyone who owns a Partridge Family album knew David’s family tree. So, too, do they know many stories inherent in the good and bad aspects of Cassidy’s life, growing up in a Hollywood cocoon, nestled slightly north of reality and south of crazy.

When you’re a young creative talent who may be surrounded by other children of Hollywood celebrities, from this side of the 90210, it is possible that in life, there comes an inevitable fork in the road with two choices: you either embrace your heritage and go forward in the world of creative expression, ignoring people who accuse you of trading on the family name—-which is an entirely false premise virtually 95% of the time--and, you carve out your identity in entertainment.

The premise also applies outside the entertainment field, as the children of successful business dynasties, legendary sports figures, and those who’ve achieved milestones in public service can readily identify. It’s a blessing when you can learn from your parents to be true to yourself and ignore all the chatter around you. Chatter is low-frequency resonance jealousy. Encouragement is high-frequency energy. David learned that, at least from his mother.

Unquestionably, David Cassidy had been blessed with talent from childhood forward, but he was cursed with people always introducing him as actor Jack Cassidy’s and actress Evelyn Ward’s son and singer/actress Shirley Jones’ stepson, later half-brother to Shaun, Patrick, and Ryan. Fortunately, David had just enough magic in him to do his best to choose his own path and make his way into the business.

It’s ironic that the producers of The Partridge Family were shocked that David could sing, extremely well. In fact, there were early recordings “by” The Partridge Family that didn’t include David at all. The extremely talented studio singers (including Tom Bähler, John Bahler, Jackie Ward, and others) were the voices on the records. One of the best songs recorded before the program aired, which excluded Cassidy, was in the pilot, “Let The Good Times In.”

With the acting skills David Cassidy and Shirley Jones brought to the on-stage performances of the band (ignoring for now the collective lack of skills the youngest performers had at the time), teenage audiences were convinced the actors in fact were actually the ones singing on the tracks. Brilliant editing and massive retakes made it look seamless, as evidenced by this episode that includes “Together (Having a Ball).”

Once again, it’s the voices you love paired with the faces you adore and presto, it’s magic. Studio singers and musicians are who American teenagers owe a very large debt of gratitude to, for the true soundtracks of their lives, and yet, teen magazine covers “sold” the show. The Cowsills themselves were the inspiration, of course, for the show, as the producers have said, but when they went to observe the band in concert, only Susan Cowsill was considered “perfect” and her elder teenage brothers were already considered “too old.”

The television show could easily have become a parody of The Cowsills’ life on the road, the way teleplays can take a true story as inspiration and then ruin it, but the show was a success because it showed a happy family going on the road in show business and succeeding.

Very subjectively, the personality quirks of each sibling made the program unique—the wily con artist, Danny, and beleaguered Ruben Kincaid were worth 1% of the impact, with another 1% for Danny’s red hair. Teenage boys tuned in to see Susan Dey, so that was 3%. And then the success was 5% having the beloved Shirley Jones’ smiling face for credibility affixed to the project, and the other 90% was all David Cassidy’s ability to carry the show on his youthful shoulders.

When producers found out that David could sing, the same session singers joined him and together they blasted “I Think I Love You,” to the top sales spot over The Beatles’ “Let it Be” and Simon and Garfunkel’s, “Bridge over Troubled Water” in 1970. Yet, save for David Cassidy, and one track saved back for Shirley Jones’s voice, occasionally, it was all manufactured magic.

The “real” band included legendary session players: Larry Carlton and Louie Shelton on guitars, Hal Blaine on drums, Joe Osborne and Max Bennett on bass, with Larry Knechtel and Mike Melvoin on keyboards and harpsichord. Hal Blaine said, “We put on our teenage thinking caps when they said ‘bubblegum’ and we knew exactly where we were going bubblegum-wise.” Millions and millions of records sales later, there is a substantial discography.

How many present-day surgeons, lawyers, senators, business executives and public servants today aren’t reflecting in quiet solitude today, a little bit sadder, knowing their former teen idol is now gone? How many of them owned some of these albums? How many of the same group of people purchased teen magazines faithfully and plastered photos from inside the magazines onto your pre-teen and teenage bedroom walls? No one is looking, but hands in the air now.

Across Facebook today, if you had a dollar for everyone who has shared their remorse and intense sorrow for the loss of David Cassidy from this world, you could fund California’s educational expenses for a year. It’s hit everyone hard. Yet, why is that?

The common denominator behind the myriad of emotions surrounding David Cassidy’s death as it reveals itself through the rest of the day is: a fond, fast holding-on to the days of our youth. First crush, first love, first time you set a goal and tried to accomplish it—the successful achievement of all these elements requires someone on the other side looking back at you, telling you what you need and want to hear. You are loved, you are respected, you are appreciated.

In fact, this theme was internationally true, as seen in the YouTube featuring the photo of the Japanese pressing, “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted.” Here, we hear the singing and spoken words of David Cassidy, who broke through young girls’ feelings of inadequacy, offering understanding, identification and validation, the most common of human needs.

Four years of David Cassidy’s life were invested, spent, enriched and wasted (depending on your and his perspectives) on “The Partridge Family.” The same contract you make with Hollywood to make you a star often has hidden clauses that can present difficult challenges in life, which primarily center around when you’re not in the same vehicle that made you famous.

Celebrity, the omnipresent two-edged sword of joy and sorrow simultaneously, brings with it great responsibility. Wherever you go in public, someone sees you and they have a reaction. Some fail to keep their reactions to themselves; instead, they feel they must share them. Publicists and publications offer normal people the opportunity to become famous. The more times you see a name and a face, the more people know you. Television propels that recognition to the nth degree.

The David Cassidy phenomenon would not have been possible without people who live in the same homes they’ve always lived in, raised their families, and mow the lawns around. TV producers, writers, musicians, songwriters, record producers, singers, makeup artists, set dressers, key grips, best boys, lighting gaffers—every single one of these television production professionals plays a key role in creating the image that people come to love.

With the right script, an actor can appear to be onscreen precisely what he or she is nothing like in real life. With the right song, an average musician can use their talents and turn the song into a good one. With the right song, superb musicians can create gifts of musical memories to imprint permanently on the minds and in the hearts of listeners around the world.

Music therapy is what it is because when words fail, music remembers. When words hurt, music heals. Where there is loss, music supplies texture and strength to fill in where there are holes. David Cassidy healed many hearts with his smile and his talents.

Years ago, I began reading David’s 2007 book, “Could it be Forever? David Cassidy: My Story.” I got through about the first ten chapters and tossed it down on my desk, disgusted with the litany of nameless, faceless conquests, out-of-control episodes and such detailed sorrow and pain that he endured as a famous television idol. Of course, he made a deal with the powers that be to be exactly that person. Yes, there were excesses that can be described typical for one given access to wealth and power too soon, but it's hypocritical to judge when I was one of those people who watched the show, enjoyed the music and have at least one Partridge Family album in my collection. I bought the softcover book for about $5.00 in a Half-Price Books & Records store. Today on this exact edition is going for $100.31. What a difference a day, or 3,650 of them, makes.

Genetically, David Cassidy couldn’t win for losing. From his mother and his maternal grandfather, clearly now, we know his dementia was inherited, exacerbated and accelerated possibly by youthful lifestyle excesses, not my diagnosis to make. From his father, whose proclivities for arrogance, decadence, and jealousy at the successes of his own progeny was embarrassing to see play out.

However, that notwithstanding, four handsome, talented sons arrived, thanks to Jack and, aside from David’s struggles, Shaun, Patrick and Ryan have been grounded in success, but have (to the public eye) escaped the sad excesses that come when other people own your soul. And still, for Jack Cassidy, the world revolved around, of course, Jack Cassidy. Life’s tough and then you are best remembered for an episode of "Columbo" that was better than most of his body of work.

David Cassidy tried to escape the music rollercoaster, several times in fact. He tried acting and was good at it. With his adult image came stylish suits, and the days of teen idolhood were far behind him. On Feb. 27, 2013, the camera opened up on CBS’s “CSI” and there was David Cassidy, as Peter Coe, a professional poker player, entering an elevator, where he was awaiting an uncertain fate.

Beyond all irony, the music in the elevator playing in the scene was Gary Puckett singing “Young Girl.” It was hard enough that David’s Peter Coe was just about to lose his life, he had to have “the competition” singing as he got killed. Some screenwriter or producer was surely having his or her own private joke. I guess you couldn’t use “Together” or “I Think I Love You” there anyway, but still…you’d think. Perhaps not. Ultimately, though, in the past many years, David Cassidy joined tours that were considered "bubblegum" and was paired with others who were concurrent teen idols, including Micky Dolenz and Mark Lindsay, the three of them sharing time on TV and in bands that were professionally augmented for varying periods of time, until the teens gained new footing breaking out and going solo from the bands that brought them first fame.

On Feb. 18, 2017, a friend saw David Cassidy’s final concert at The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, California. As she always shares concert fun with friends on Facebook, she often live broadcasts and that night as she did, friends saw a man on stage who looked disheveled. To be present for that final concert was something unknown to all those in the audience that night. I remember the feeling of being at what would later be called one of Davy Jones’ last three concerts in 2012 before he died. Perhaps we realize our own mortality, as defined by those whose talents were shared as you grew up.

As he announced that “2017 is the last year that he was going to be playing and touring…c’mon, 49 years…the world was a different place in 1970.” Listen for yourself. Most of the audience chalked it up to Cassidy being drunk; given that he’d had several DUIs in recent times, that was an easy assumption to make. Was he drunk? Was he fighting to remember what he wanted to say? Was he both? Not our call to make.

Importantly, he told the story of how he almost quit “The Partridge Family” because the producers wanted him to do a song with a middle, spoken part, and he thought it was absolutely not the right thing to do. Turned out to be one of this biggest hits, “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted” and again, that was the question virtually every teenage and preteen girl could respond, “Yes, we do” to.

Producers knew their audience and market; David Cassidy knew what was cool and what wasn’t. Royalty and residual checks are not sufficient balm on the wound when you’re 22 years old, playing a high school teenager, and you want to be taken seriously as an adult, but you’re 5’6” and you look 17.

Which brings us back to February 18, at the Canyon Club. Video notes from a frequent YouTube poster claimed that “immediately after the show, the Dr. Phil television show film crew interviewed David Cassidy backstage, then recorded audience attendees’ reaction to the evening’s performance.

“The Dr. Phil Show” was broadcast on March 1, 2017, an exclusive interview and if adult businesspeople all of a sudden took a late lunch hour that day to watch this show, you’d know how many people cared about David Cassidy’s well-being. As usual Dr. Phil was probing, yet gentle, as he posed his questions, for David’s tearful answers.

The most poignant message shared (paraphrasing) was that David told his son, Beau, when you see me become like my mother (Evelyn) is now, please find a way to let me go. He didn’t want his son to relive what he had to live through, watching his mother disintegrate. Of course, Beau never took that to heart.

As I’ve checked into Facebook and Twitter, throughout this morning and now into the afternoon, it’s surprising that David Cassidy is not a “trending topic” on either social media outlet. I’m no expert on personal feeds and what shows trending to each person, if there’s a major difference, what with all their mysterious algorithms and advertisements, and yet, on Facebook, what’s trending now does not include the man who sold over 30,000,000 records.

His was an unpleasant disease; his was a decline and demise that robbed him of his soul, and while one can argue that a lifestyle lived to “beyond barriers of good sense” can accelerate and destroy chances of a normal life, you can’t fight genetics. Theoretically the dementia was inevitable. The tragedy was that it came far too soon for a young man who still had years of life left to watch his son continue to grow up.

David has a daughter, Katie, who grew up in Calabasas, CA. She’s a lovely actress (raised by her mother, model Sherry Williams, and her stepfather), who is now age 30, and unmistakably has her father’s green eyes. Her given name is Katherine Evelyn Anita Cassidy, and she’s worked continuously on the CW network (Melrose Place, Supernatural, Gossip Girl, and back for her fifth year of “Arrow”). Plus, she’s been in a few music videos.

Katie once recorded “I Think I Love You.” Hey, why not? It’s all about trying to earn a living in a town that grants approval on a temporary basis and offers the opportunity to make you a star, or a pauper, in a moment’s notice. These are the two options with success and failure that she understands well already. She watched it from the front row. To win, though, is divine, and that's what keeps everyone going in life, the quest for success.

Speaking of money, Cassidy had a multitude of financial difficulties and trials that are lesser known than the lyrics and melodies that everyone knows by heart. He battled each trial with bravery, working any job his agent could get him, to earn the money and climb back out of bankruptcy. It’s in comprehensible to the average fan that a man whose collective work sold over a reported 30,000,000 records can be bankrupt. And yet, business insiders understand well what things cost to keep up appearances. He loved thoroughbred racing and eventually married a woman he met through mutual horse friends, and while horses brought him great joy, not only did their expense and upkeep cost a fortune, so did his ultimate divorce from that unfortunate union. He exited with about $1,000 and two suitcases to his name, in his version of that experience. Still, he remained upbeat and happy to be working.

Fans did their part, though, in buying tickets and showing up wherever David Cassidy performed over the last decade. On Sunday when it was falsely reported that David had died (ah, the Internet twerps) I picked up the book that had a fairly thick coast of dust along its side, as it was being used as one of five books used to raise the level of a desk lamp, so I began to scan the book again.

I learned that even when he was at his lowest financially, he turned down the opportunity to make $500,000 because of the source of the funds. Cassidy had integrity and relevant values, even when no one was looking to applaud the choice. He met an agent who’d been a fan and explained that “he was basically a mess” but she took him on as a client and he began to work again.

His marriages are not a matter of great interest and really none of our business, but he seemed to have had his best life when married to Sue Shifrin. Sue is a songwriter who wrote (or cowrote) several successful chart hits for Cliff Richard, Musical Youth, Patti Austin, Peabo Bryson, and the Al Jarreau song, “So Good.” Shifrin is, truly, so good. [And yes, that’s Kiki Ebsen on the keyboards and vocals among Al’s on-stage galaxy of stars.]

Sue and David created a good life together, wrote songs together, and had their son, Beau, now age 25, who was their best creation in their marriage.

Their marriage lasted 23 years, through 2014, which is about when David’s public image began resurfacing as “troubled.” And yet, he still kept trying to work, pay bills, and keep on going.

That work ethic would lead him to Feb. 18th’s Canyon Club finale. He tried to tell a story; people kept up incessant chatter. He tried to perform and with a great band behind him, he made it through several songs.

In the end, though, my friend who’d adored David Cassidy and who was at The Canyon Club, couldn’t bear to keep her videos up on Facebook and took them down the next day, crushed because things were not as they used to be, not as she hoped for, not how she remembered them.

Perhaps it would be of some comfort to know that most of David’s happiest days were when he was with Sue Shifrin. Sue writes:

…in general, we’re just supposed to be together. We’re still standing after 20 years and I can’t believe it. It’s gone so fast. I just love his spirit. I love the fact that he’s a survivor. I love the fact that no matter how hard he gets kicked, he gets up. And he’s been kicked really hard. I’ve been around it, and I’ve seen it and my heart has bled for him. But he always managed to get back up. I tell him all the time, ‘You remind me of the Terminator. You’re like the steel skelton.’ He has miraculously survived a life that has been a huge rollercoaster.

Truer words can’t be found to sum up his impact in his life of 67 years, lived out loud and large on television. David’s words follow Sue’s in his book. And they are the only thing that bring tears to my eyes today as I understand them to a level that defies boundary:

The way that Sue and I evaluate someone is, Would you climb a mountain with them? And, if you were slipping, would they reach down and say, Come on, I got you? The more willing you are to care for your family and make sacrifices for the people you love, the better you become as a human being. You become a more well-rounded person and look at life from different perspectives. I had gotten myself out of debt. I had rebuilt my soul and spirit and physical and mental health. I started on a journey as a parent that’s been an unexpected gift and joy and I now find that my family is the most important element in my life. And that includes my brothers, my nephews, my nieces, my sisters-in-law, my cousins and my mother. My mother, sadly, is now suffering from a horrible disease that none of us is immune to—dementia. I support her, take care of her, see her as often as possible. I know how important she has been in my life. My heart breaks daily for her and for others who have endured this painful disease.

I had never visited David’s web site before, but today I went there and saw where his web team admin had posted news of his passing. I scrolled down to Aug. 9th’s post, and in his message to fans, it is written:

I am saddened by news of the death of an old friend, Glen Campbell. He will be missed. Glen, in the past decade, has been suffering from the disease that killed my mother and my grandfather, Alzheimer’s/dementia. Glen was a great musician, guitar player, singer and all-around great guy. May God rest his soul. David.

When Glen Campbell passed away, he was a social media trending topic. In fairness, today America remembers the assassination of President John F. Kennedy that happened 54 years ago and other items the algorithms are promoting. Missing in action, sadly though, is David Cassidy, among the trending topics. Somehow, though, that’s alright, too. David Cassidy never really wanted to be a trending topic. In fact, perhaps he would have disliked a fuss being made over his passing.

Instead, we choose to remember David Cassidy’s words: "Would you climb a mountain with them? And, if you were slipping, would they reach down and say, Come on, I got you?"

Rather than end with a 1970s version of David’s music, here’s “Tell Me It’s Not True” from the play “Blood Brothers,” a successful project that David convinced Shaun to take time away, as a busy screenwriter working on a film for Universal, and come perform with him. Fortunately, Shaun’s schedule permitted, and this beautiful song remains as an example of two siblings, climbing a mountain together.

Rest in peace, David Cassidy, and thanks for sharing your talents with us.

P.S. To the New York Times writers and editors, please take a moment to confirm the accuracy of your details in reporting. Seriously. You’re supposed to be a benchmark for journalism.

[Photo credits: Tiger beat; 16 Magazine; David and Sue; David, Sue, and Beau; David and Evelyn; David and Katie] ]