Sunday, October 29, 2017

When WAZE Takes You Back 50 Years on Your Way Back Home

Last week provided a splendid reason to travel to San Antonio to briefly revisit lifelong friendships with two schoolmates in a quick up-and-back trip. As a dear friend reminded me recently, "Never miss something important that only happens once." I've been holding fast to those wise words for weeks now. Love how that's working out. With planning, everything you need to do still gets done, but you don't have to miss things and regret them later. And a phone app called WAZE would make the journey easier and do more than that in the course of a day.

Before the fantastic celebration of the arts in San Antonio had started, as Patricia Boyd Contreras and I had seen our dear friend and classmate, Dr. Carmen Tafolla, honored by the City for Distinction in the Arts (more on that later), I sat in reflection. Only three years old in its present updated, yet historic setting, I knew the Tobin Center best as the "Municipal Auditorium."
So, I sat in the Tobin parking lot for a moment...reflecting. The outside of the building bore no resemblance to the "Spanish colonial," as a Texas Monthly writer described it--the Municipal Auditorium I'd grown up seeing. And yet, it was beautiful in its new facade, thanks to HEB Grocery Stores and other donors. Inside the design is brilliant and the iridescent colors are so attractive that it's almost possible to forget what it used to look like.

In that old building I'd first heard the San Antonio Symphony, conducted at the time by Victor Alessandro. We were excited to sit in the comfy, cushy grown-up chairs, surrounded by lush carpet, and hear beautiful music played for hundreds of area schoolchildren. I recall taking new stuffed animals to the U.S. Marines' Toys for Tots concerts there, the price of admission.

It was a precious $3.00 to see The Buckinghams, Sunny and the Sunliners (Sunny Ozona), and Archie Bell and the Drells, and others. My handwritten memo on the back of my Polaroid b/w Swinger camera noted 12/14/69. Many of my pictures that night (including The Buckinghams) had faded, but seeing this one, and the fabulous seats my Mom managed to secure made me remember how magical she was all over again (I do recall her talking to one of the Marines expressing how much I loved all the performers on stage that evening,'d just have to know Mama to know how that stuff happened all the time). Another concert favorite was to hear the Grand Ol' Opry with Ferlin Husky, Little Jimmy Dickens, Miss Minnie Pearl, and Miss Skeeter Davis. That evening I got to meet Skeeter Davis in person (Mama again. Another story, another time.)

I didn't know the word "foreshadowing" at age five, but it would appear that anxiously watching the rise and fall of the red curtain would be part of a very happy future.Those early concerts began my fascination with the amazing world of live concerts by brilliant artists.

That night staring at the powerful neon lighting in the Tobin Center, I saw the past, present, and future of the lives of my friends and my own life, boundless, multiple possibilities beckoning, new challenges inviting. As girls, now women, and all those along our journey, we were told we could be anything we wanted to be. Convention never defined us, barriers were made to be broken, and we went to the school that insisted we could be more than even we had imagined we could be.

It's strange having to consult a map (or my phone) to navigate downtown San Antonio...I used to know exactly where to go by rote. For the first two decades of my life, I knew every twist and turn by landmark for downtown from anywhere. The freeways and side streets were great to navigate, before all the name changes and new routes and subroutes and boom, you're there. Because there's so much construction downtown and on IH-35, I needed options only my mapping app would provide.

For about two years I've been estranged from Google Maps as I've enjoyed the WAZE navigation app, thanks to the recommendation of my friend Nancy. WAZErs are a friendly lot, and alert you to real-time travel conditions. Starting out from The Tobin Center, WAZE offered me three choices home, the total distance traveled and trip length, so I could choose. Much data, several choices.

From the Tobin Center, the first turns would get me to Broadway and then to...oh my gosh, I knew where I was going, and found myself just 2 blocks away from the historic Witherspoon Building at 320 E. Sixth Street. Why is that magical? It's like many other buildings downtown and it's old; therefore it's historic. The apartment at the far corner of the building in the back was my Great Aunt Emma's residence for most of the years I knew her; there had been a little residence on E. Grayson Street, I am pretty least from the 1960s...all the way until 1991, when she passed away at the age of 98. Now, this is relevant and sort of fascinating (if only to me) for a number of reasons.

Great Aunt Emma and her husband Mitchell had a son, Robert, who died very young due to polio, which was devastating. It was a time of no vaccines and hard economic times. Uncle Mitchell was a house painter by trade, and he died very young, leaving Aunt Emma with no visible means of supporting herself, and no education beyond the school of hard knocks, one of the best teachers of how to work. She was, however, a great seamstress, so that is what she did in her longtime job at the St. Anthony Hotel in SA. Today it's an historic five-star international hotel, but even in the 1960s the hotel was "all that and a bag of chips" in terms of prestige. Many private residences were held by several of S.A.'s most influential businesspersons.

Early on, working at the St. Anthony, Aunt Emma knew she couldn't afford to keep the home she'd shared with Uncle Mitchell, so she decided to rent a more affordable apartment in SA, and one of her coworkers at the hotel, Charlotte, was looking for a room to rent. Charlotte was working as a hostess in the St. Anthony's main dining room. Celebrities traveling to SA always stayed at the St. Anthony, and Charlotte got to meet all of them and they would ask for her by name. Charlotte had been recently divorced from an unhappy marriage and so, as God always seems to know what people need and when, Aunt Emma became a perfect mother figure and Charlotte the good daughter.

The two of them remained friends for their lifetimes, and Charlotte became a joyful part of our extended family, too. Except we never used the term "extended," as she was true family, especially to me. She always had time and attention to share and was always interested in whatever I had to say. By sharing expenses, they managed to do well and Aunt Emma was a faithful saver of her lifetime, she never believed in banks keeping your money safe, because she'd lived through the great depression and remembered when "they had one thin dime to get them through a week"...a dime was enough for bread and milk and that was about it, back then. Aunt Emma taught Charlotte how to save, and I recall, as a child, hearing admonitions, lest anyone think of not saving something that could be reused.

Aunt Emma saved everything she could for reuse, e.g., aluminum foil. She shopped at Kresge's (the ultimate parent company of K-Mart), and bought Dak brand canned hams for $2.89 or so in the 1960s. They made four or five meals out of them. As was a member of 75+ years of Farm and Home Savings & Loan...Aunt Emma received a certificate for that notation. As a child, I didn't see how that was relevant, but Mom congratulated her savings talent and I learned then how important it was to save, for when you might not have income you were counting on having. That lesson I'd learn to value sooner than I'd realize. Today's young people walk into Target or WalMart and they're used to just picking what they want. Few have cause to learn to save allowance for weeks and wait with anxious anticipation for something worth saving, and waiting, for. That saddens me, until I see contemporary parents teaching their children that lesson, and my heart is warmed all over again. It's a miracle this photo of Aunt Emma even exists, but perhaps there was a special at Corona Studios (May 12, 1956) for this beautiful photo to be taken. No matter how it happened, it's a cherished photo.

She took no vacations nor did she travel out of town....not even on the bus. Grandma Daisy came to San Antonio for two weeks, once each year and the first week she spent in SA, staying with us, and we saw her sister, Aunt Emma, every day of that week, then we drove to Galveston for every July 4th on the beach there. Great Aunt Bird (Berta) lived there, and she was Grandma Daisy's half-sister, but Bird raised Daisy in a family of 16 kids...eight from the dad and eight from the mom blending together when the widow married the widower...these brief visits kept the 'family' together.

Great Aunt Emma wasn't long on conversation but she was kind....Charlotte was more talkative and fun to be around, but Aunt Emma had lots and lots of stories about their growing up. I remember a few, a very few, but could kick myself for not paying closer attention. When you're 8 and 9 don't think in those terms anyway.

In the day and time of the 1960s, their rent for that one-bedroom apartment was about $50-$75/month. If you had a down payment for a house, maybe a mortgage payment could run $70-$90/month for a small home, $400/month for a mansion perhaps. Hard to know much about pricing when you're in elementary school. Charlotte had the bedroom and Aunt Emma had her big poster bed, armoir, dressing table and sewing machine, all in the back half of the very large living room.

It seemed such a vast living area...and today's rent there, for the same place, I see online, is $895/month. It had (I hope this is a correct memory) 37 cast iron steps and Aunt Emma marched up and down those steps two and three times a day...which is how she stayed in shape. She walked to the bus stop and took the bus to the St. Anthony, as did Charlotte. It was not ever a safe neighborhood by any standards, really. But when you pray for safety, which they did, safety was there.

The Witherspoon Building was home above the Pep Boys garage underneath...the garage saw a lot of traffic during the daytime but shut down about 6 pm. You could park in the lot directly behind the building. I do remember as a kid learning to be aware of who was around when you went to get in the car, and to first walk all around the car before getting in it, lest someone try to enter from the opposite side and drag you and the car off with them. Yet, it didn't deter Mom (and me, in tow) from visiting Aunt Emma. Mom and Charlotte were both concerned when someone grabbed Aunt Emma's purse and took off one day...and they looked for another place to live.

They moved across about 5 miles to "The Rex Apartments" that were not necessarily in a better neighborhood, but it was landscaped beautifully. That lasted 5 days and they moved back to the same building that was being managed by their friend, Mary, widow of Ed, who'd been a night typesetter at the San Antonio Light newspaper. Mary welcomed them back with open arms and there they stayed. All three of them looked out for each other.

Aunt Emma never let you carry her purse, which weighed a good 30 lbs (slight exaggeration, only slight), and insisted on carrying it up and down those stairs...Mom feared constantly that the weight of the purse would send her careening down the stairs but it never did...these days if you asked me to take those stairs once a day, I'd have to think twice about the potential of tripping...but she never did worry....the best attitude.

Final thoughts...when Aunt Emma was a younger woman, early bride, Mom and Aunt Virginia would ride the Frisco Railroad (free) each summer to spend several weeks in both San Antonio and with Aunt Emma. Mom said she was lighthearted, funny, loving and kind. It was those times, I am convinced, that were some of the most special of the very hard life and times Mom's generation had, growing up in St. Louis. Ultimately, Mom would move permanently to SA, where she took a job in civil service, with a government office located on the base at Ft. Sam Houston, very close to where Aunt Emma's original house was.

It's hard to tell what a person is like by one semi-serious photo pose, but among the pioneers of our generation of strong never saw her pity herself and how little she had to live on....she had faith in God, even if she didn't attend church each week, and that's the perfect example of how being in a church each week doesn't make you religious any more than being in a garage every night makes you a's how you live your life and if you trust someone or something outside yourself to have gotten you here as who looks in on you at times when you don't even think you have a right to ask for help. All those thoughts came rushing back into my mind simply by driving down that street (that my Waze GPS programmed me to take) on my way back home from SA...the first hometown I ever knew.

Eventually, I arrived back home, spending those 210 minutes in deep reflection, being alert enough to avoid two standstill traffic jams along I-35 (thank you many, many exit ramps in SA), but the joyful events of the day--seeing a longtime friend after too long, and seeing another longtime friend of ours honored by the most creative and talented artists, academics and dignitaries in San Antonio, had me on the proverbial Cloud 9. WAZE got me home safely, but it took me via a small detour of five decades of my life. I had to forgo the usual Buc-ee's stop with my new route, darn the luck, and I left with no Bill Miller iced tea refills in my car, yet I had a perfect view of my childhood, thanks to a heavenly intervention of memory, and a technological invention called WAZE. Thanks for the memories, WAZE. I owe you one.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The Shining Light, Wise Mind, and Loving Heart of Nelda S. Green

Nelda Smith Green

August 12, 1929 –October 6, 2017

When a dear friend called me tonight to tell me the news that Nelda Green had passed from this life today, my first thought was “Oh, how many people loved her, yet she was so modest, few people truly knew all that she did to make Bryan-College Station, and especially Texas A&M University, a far better place than when she had found it.” I ran to my scrapbook and knew what I was looking for, photos of Nelda when I first met her. Nelda was the one usually taking pictures, so it was a rare joy to capture a few images.

We were introduced through a mutual friend in 1991, as we were going to be on a committee together. The Memorial Student Center Opera and Performing Arts Society was in full prep mode to celebrate 20 years as an organization on campus. Her spirit of peace and calm was the first thing I noticed about her. “Unflappable” is the first word that comes to mind as I want to share with you that her grace and beauty overrode any kind of emotion she might be feeling at the time.

Nelda had this uncanny ability to make “you” the focus of her attention and it was disarming and charming simultaneously. It’s clearly the primary characteristic that found her in the know of every leading-edge decision and move that Texas A&M College made as its transition to University in every essence of world class was truly appropriate and real. Today, "world class" is a throwaway phrase, overused and trite, and entirely unapplicable, compared to the day and time where Nelda Green made an unforgettable, irreplaceable impact when there were no guidebooks, paved roads, or paths to follow. It was the true wild west of academe as the unprecedented growth in enrollment in the early 1970s would have cratered any other school, save ours, because of the true caliber of excellence in leadership that A&M enjoyed. Those in charge blazed the path and Nelda was right there to document it all, with precision, completeness, and irrefutable facts that were preserved for the future. Nelda always had her facts right...always.

Nelda had worked for General James Earl Rudder in the days when the all-male military college was gently transitioning into a university with female students, side-by-side in classes with ROTC cadets and non-regs, too. As a freshman undergraduate in those days, I have to say that if it weren’t for Gen. Rudder at the helm of the school, and Sen. W.T. Moore, Sr. running the Texas Senate, it never would have worked. That, and they could both count on Nelda Green taking care of so many things behind the scenes that she was valued for, but few of her friends would even know she did, as she was the height of discretion, the epitome of modesty and the embodiment of humble.

Let me explain. Nelda was the queen of organization…her files were thorough, brilliant, and the only way the CEOs can do what they do is when their first-in-commands have their backs, with no apologies for the military references because that’s what A&M’s greatness was built on.

Nelda was kind, compassionate, and she had a brilliant sense of humor. What it would take others five minutes to explain, she could say in one sentence. Her “cut to the chase” skills were invaluable in work and in life. She could make you feel better quickly when you felt clueless. She was generous in her giving of information you needed it so you’d be prepared when you entered a new situation. Nelda was also just so witty.

She restrained herself from being an entertainer, although surely she knew enough and saw more, to have filled books with all that she’d seen and heard in working for all the CEOs of Texas A&M back when we just called them Presidents and treated them with respect because their mental acumen was such that they needed no other accolades. That’s taking nothing away from recent and current leaders, because the point is, all the heavy lifting was already done by the time President Ray Bowen took the helm in the 1990s. We’re talking about the hard, almost impossible, times of restricted state funds, one third of the PUF and making do on only the generosity of philanthropic donors, all of whom Nelda knew on a first-name basis.

Back in the, excuse me, “Good Old Days” of Texas A&M, no one had to launch a campaign to meet needs. Gen. Rudder picked up a phone, called an Aggie, and one of them would send a corporate jet to pick him up and transport him wherever he needed to go to discuss what Texas A&M needed and he’d come home with a check, or a gentleman’s or lady’s word, and presto, funding secured.

It didn’t matter who was President of Texas A&M—General Rudder, President Jack K. Williams, Acting President Clyde Freeman, President Jarvis Miller, Acting President Chuck Sampson, or President Frank Vandiver, Nelda was the institutional memory for anything of any importance inside the inner sanctum, and not once in her lifetime did she ever reveal anything confidential or compromising or anything.

She was the consummate professional and thus had the respect of everyone for whom she worked. To that end, she always addressed them by full title, “General Rudder,” “Dr. Williams,” “Dr. Miller, “Dr. Vandiver” etc., when speaking of them to others during the workday. I noticed that in the time I was in various campus offices to hear others, not of the “old school” addressing those who would address their bosses by their first names. Point being, Nelda represented all that was the grand and glorious of the heyday of Texas A&M’s growth and true transfiguration into the school now constantly touted as “ours.”

Nelda worked impossible hours and made it look easy. But it was then and how and why she would ultimately meet her true soulmate and kindred spirit, Harry J. Green, Jr. ’52. Anyone who knew Nelda knew of Harry, long before they’d meet him. If ever you could pick two people at random and put them together as a “perfect couple,” that was Nelda with her “Harry J.” Ask either one of them and independently they’d both say, “I married my best friend.” That was the secret to their enduring, endearing love of live together and endless devotion to each other.

Now, the community of the Brazos Valley was equally fortunate to have Nelda contributing her time and talents, in her “spare” moments not in her 8-to-5 or 8-to-8 world at A&M. When it came time to write the history of the MSC OPAS organization, Anne Black wisely asked Nelda to write it as she was well acquainted with and friends of Wayne Stark, whose foresight and inspiration made possible what we all continue to reap, in an organization now in its (gasp) 45th season. In 1992, Nelda’s history was part of the program booklet for the 20th anniversary year, and other MSC OPAS events were strengthened by her contributions.

Nelda was equally devoted to their church, First Presbyterian, where she and Harry were greeters during the days when her health permitted. Faithful in their attendance, faithful in their beliefs, neither Nelda nor Harry was ever overtly known for talking about where they went to church but whenever a new person came to town, they were invited to join the Greens for a Sunday morning worship service. That’s not all.

Through Harry’s work founding, operating, running and managing the Aggie Club from an office with no help to the effusively staffed multimillion dollar organization today called the 12th Man Foundation, Nelda knew and was hostess for every single coach in the history of Aggie sports, all because Harry was bringing someone over, or they were going to host this or that person. When new coaches were hired for sports such as TAMU men’s or women’s golf, Nelda made sure that the new coaches and their spouses met everyone in the community in addition to on campus, so they could become acclimated. It went without saying that she was a First Lady of A&M, without the title ever officially affixed.

Time passed and retirement was something that neither Nelda nor Harry embraced, and Harry even went to work fulltime again for his dear friend, and Nelda dove into a lot of volunteer work in her new spare time. They were both, as a couple, sweet, devoted friends to some of Texas A&M’s former first ladies, particularly Mrs. Margaret Rudder and Mrs. Ruth Harrington.

There was a special sister-like kinship between Nelda and Margaret Rudder. They were twin sisters of different mothers (with credit to Dan Fogelberg for the analogy) and together they were absolutely brilliant, witty, and frankly hilarious. Never was the humor at the expense of anyone else. It was just how they saw life, and the truth is always stranger than fiction.

One trip that comes to mind was ca. 1991. Margaret, Nelda, Ann Wiatt and I traveled to see the childhood home of President Lyndon B. Johnson near Stonewall, Texas. I was the appointed driver for the outing, allowed to drive Margaret’s car, and all I can tell you is the poignancy of seeing the beautiful handwriting that President Johnson had, in the letters displayed therein, and how much of an impact a discussion we had about the true art of handwriting our communications and how important they are to preserving history. All the way back we talked of how much various letters we’d received in the mail had moved us to saving them to keep them.

As I reflect today, all three ladies in the car were primo for writing thank-you notes for things done for their efforts, and I recall how I’d vowed then to follow in their footsteps in keeping up with that time-honored tradition. I remember how beautiful, and eloquent Nelda’s handwriting was—precise, exact, and perfect. In fact, a friend asked Nelda to hand-address some key envelopes of outgoing correspondence for a fund-raiser.

Nelda was happy to be on any committee you’d ask her to, but the spotlight was not where she wanted to be, and she’d always find a reason to put someone else in it, because that’s just how she was. Gracious, a true southern gentlewoman and one about whom never an unkind word was ever said. Ask yourself this very minute, how many other people can you say you know who fit that description? Yes, Nelda was a one-of-a-kind and she was never one to accept that.

Her heart truly was as big as Texas. In 2014, the local American Heart Association “Heart Ball” committee most deservedly honored Nelda as their “Honorary Chair” for the “2014 Heart Ball: A Night Under the Stars” Gala.

As you can see from the photo of the committee members (courtesy of Tina Gandy), everyone in the Brazos Valley had known for a long time of Nelda’s support of the fight against heart disease and stroke, having helped secure attendance, funding, and awareness of the event from almost the very beginning of the event. Anyone who worked with or just knew Nelda respected her immensely and loved her dearly because of her unique talent at being kind under all circumstances.

Nelda wouldn’t like that this is so long, because she never wanted a fuss made over her. It wasn’t her nature. However, in the days, weeks and months to come many accolades will be shared about her. Each person whose life she touched will have something special to say and to add. Final arrangements are handled through Callaway-Jones Funeral Center in Bryan. Her online tribute is at:

Family and friends are invited to a time of visitation from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday, October 9, at Callaway-Jones Funeral Center, 3001 S College Ave in Bryan. A memorial service is set for 1 p.m. Tuesday, at First Presbyterian Church in Bryan, with Pastor Ted Foote officiating. A private burial will be in the College Station City Cemetery.
The photos I am sharing here are my own, taken at the home of mutual dear friends in 1991 and in 1992. The beauty in her face, the light shining in her eyes, and her serene countenance are all the way I will always remember Nelda. Her thoughtful remembrance of days that were important to all whom she knew, the unconditional friendship she offered those fortunate enough to call her friend, and the everlasting forgiveness she showed to all who sought it for any reason…these and so many other reasons remain inadequate to explain how dear she was.

Special prayers for comfort are sent on wings of eagles to her beloved Harry J. It’s not easy for him right now, but Harry knows where she is. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love never fails. If you had to have a photo to go with 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, the appropriate photo would be one of Harry and his Nelda, who embodied every aspect of the verse.

We’ve lost an angel among us today but, per her faith as she’d allow me to say, she’s busy greeting Margaret and Gen. Earl Rudder, Dr. Williams, Wayne Stark and a ton of traveling Aggies with whom she and Harry saw the world. That’s what I perceive the afterlife to be, one great big giant reunion of all the people in the world whom you’ve loved in this lifetime. And they’re so happy to see her again. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

To Nelda, with love, Dawn Lee