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

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Remembering Monty Hall, and the Good ol’ Days of “Let’s Make a Deal”

Learning tonight that another cherished childhood icon, TV Game Show Host Monty Hall, had died today, my first words were, “Oh Monty, Monty, Monty.” What untold hours of joy and laughter and good, clean fun we enjoyed together throughout my childhood. The daytime afternoon TV show would come on my little black and white TV in my San Antonio living room and summertime was fun time whenever Monty was on the air, teaching me the true, unexpurgated “art of the deal.” Monty’s real name was Maurice Halperin when he was born in Canada, but he made a wise decision in changing it to Monty Hall.

I was not even a teenager when I started watching this NBC show, which debuted in 1963 and lasted all the way through 1977, pretty remarkable for a game show. I don’t consider myself a material person but I did learn early in life what things cost, what they were worth, and how much the possible acquisition of some of the “finer” things in life would cost me, should I one day be able to make enough money to afford them.

Each day, I looked forward to joining my friend Monty, and two new friends, one off-camera and one on-, (Jay Stewart and Carol Merrill, respectively), whenever the charming game show music began. Jay would say:

“These people dressed as they are come from all over the United States to make deals here in the marketplace of America, “Let’s Make a Deal!” And now here’s America’s top trader, TV’s big dealer, Monty Hall!”

And then I’d smile.

Onto the trading floor, the cameras would pan the festive and zany costumes with which individuals and couples would be all dressed up in hopes that their crazy wardrobe would attract Monty’s eyes. They’d scream, “Monty, Monty, pick me, pick me!” unabashedly and when Monty picked them, it was full joy mode with people jumping up and down like there was no tomorrow. They brought the strangest stuff you could ever think of to trade with Monty for a chance to play the game.

Now, you had to make choices as a contestant. You started with smaller first deals of the day, and then if you won enough in cash and prizes, Monty would invite you to keep what you had won or “to go for the big deal of the day,” hidden behind one of three curtain doors. Two finalists were selected to compete for the big deal and whoever won the most money and prizes that show got to pick their choice of number for the first curtain.

I learned that beautiful dress furs came from Dicker and Dicker of Beverly Hills. To a young girl in San Antonio, I could only dream of visiting Beverly Hills, or NBC Burbank studios, one day if I was very lucky, but I knew I’d want to have enough to visit Dicker and Dicker, ha. Then there was beautiful sterling silver from the Michael C. Fina Company.

If anyone ever doubts the value of branding, think again. Say you want to make your product a brand, a household name. Repetition works, and works, and works. Every time Jay Stewart said Michael C. Fina, I not only remembered the name, what it belonged to and Mr. Fina’s middle initial…and still do 54 years later. It’s either embarrassing or refreshing to admit what I can and cannot recall from childhood. The rivers in Texas were not half as fascinating as the possibility of winning Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat, as a potential contestant who walked away with a bad deal, aka, a “zonk.”

How many catch phrases did this show add to our lexicon? Seriously? Let’s think

What’s inside the box?

“Do you want to keep what you have or go for what’s behind the curtain?”
“I’ll go for what’s behind the curtain!” “It’s the big deal of the day!” “Oh no, I was zonked!” “Monty, Monty, Monty!”

Jay Stewart still made it sound not too bad if we saw someone get zonked, and Carol Merrill showed us all sorts of appliances in the most graceful and beautiful fashion with her model-like hands and gracious ways of drawing attention to the true beauty of kitchen appliances. Now you are envisioning Carol’s hand and arm movements right now? Aren’t you? You know you are!

One of the most refreshing things about the show is that there was never cause to be embarrassed in watching because it was all good, clean fun. It wasn’t until Chuck Barris entered the game show circuit that the double entendre came into fluid use on game shows.

No, Monty was fun and he was G-rated and he was so kind, so very kind, when people lost and he would always spend time in the gallery above the trading floor at the end of the show. “I’ll give you $100 if anyone brought a paperclip, eyebrow tweezers, or a thermometer….”

I'm purposely avoiding the statistical discussion and math references to "The Monty Hall Problem" because it involves three unopened doors and gives me a headache to contemplate when I'd much rather just think about the game show. But yes, we're aware of it, haha!

People showed up with satchels and purses full of obscure “stuff” just in case Monty offered $100 to anyone who brought him something he called for. The first to have it and produce it went home a winner. Everyone won by watching “Let’s Make a Deal,” and it was a pillar of my early love of competitive games. I thought I had very keen intuitive powers as a kid, especially if you’d seen my track record of knowing what curtain the big deal was behind every day. But, you couldn’t be a contestant when you were 8, or 11, or 14. And so I had to wait.

As a joke for years as a kid, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say “a professional game show contestant,” and I was only half-kidding. I loved the excitement of the unknown, the chase for the prize, and the thrill of victory and skillfully avoiding defeat. So, I became a chemist instead. Yes, the two fields are so close. If anyone every had to take organic chemistry, you know what a zonk is, and if you’ve ever passed physical chemistry, you know what survival is. Pretty much life is a game show and we’re all the happy contestants at different times of our lives or that’s how I rationalized it when I didn’t get to Television City for my chance at the bigtime.

(Above: Wayne Brady, Jonathan Mangum, Monty Hall; Below: Tiffany Coyne and Carol Merrill)

Today the show goes on, thanks to Wayne Brady and Jonathan Mangum. Now Wayne is one truly gifted comedian and singer, and a skilled, award-winning talk show host, and I know Jonathan from a few episodes of “NCIS” where he played a “replacement” special agent when Tony, Ziva, and McGee all turned in their badges, but frankly, it’s not the same. Wayne does his very best to continue the show into this generation and is convincing, kind, sings great with the contestants and gives away a lot of stuff.

But, there’s never going to be anything quite as perfect as the original, and the man in the sports jackets who hailed from Canada and was our faithful friend every day for many of his 96 years.

He is survived by his daughter, actress Joanna Gleason, and daughter, TV executive and producer Sharon Hall, and son, writer/director and reality show producer Richard Hall. Monty’s wife, Marilyn, passed away just three months ago in June, 2017. Marilyn was a TV producer (TV movie “A Woman Called Golda”) as well as a writer (one episode of “Love, American Style”), which rounded out the true Hollywood family, if one can verify all the IMDB information posted. The couple was married for 64 years, another part of the happily ever after story.

Thank you for adding to my childhood, Monty Hall (and co-creator Stefan Hatos) and for creating “Let’s Make a Deal.” You were such a fun part of the growing-up years of all Baby Boomers. I’m guessing that you chose curtain number one, and you’re very happy right now. "Jay, why don't you tell him what he's won!"

RIP Monty, Monty, Monty.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Reaching for the Sky, for the Sake of Dr. Ernesto Bernal

As a child, I had very few heroes. The fluidity of childhood meant growth and change, so there wasn’t a fixed amount of time to develop long-term trust in adults, save for their daily presence in your life. Thanks to Keystone School, all the educators placed teaching as their number one priority, so eventually I’d find many heroes throughout my years there.

To be clear, the founders were never my heroes; they were facilitators in my life. Aside from my mom, I do recall awarding the first title of “hero” to the future Dr. Ernesto Bernal, who taught English and Government to the high schoolers. At the time, he was known as “Mr. Bernal” or “Mr. B.” I trusted him implicitly, instinctively, and I was, and remain, slow to give my trust.

Keystone’s campus was a collective of old Victorian style homes in the Monte Vista District of San Antonio. Not only did it feel like home, it looked like home. Fireplaces in certain rooms, old-time radiators in others, a red plastic vinyl couch in the main hallway for children to sit on between classes, and a full-scale commercial kitchen smack in the middle of the building with amazing cooks preparing homemade lunches. The old carriage house was now a makeshift science lab with a classroom directly upstairs, accessed by iron railed steps. There was no gymnasium; we had an asphalt basketball court. Yes, we were home all right.

As a discerning child, clearly more skeptical than I realized until years later, I expected people to fall into one of two categories: ones who would do what they said they would do, and others whose word meant nothing.

One of the “grown-ups” I met first at Keystone was Mr. Bernal. He’d soared through Central Catholic High School and St. Mary’s University and when I arrived, he was teaching at Keystone, highly regarded as both teacher and friend by all my friends in high school. That last sentence might give you pause to doubt…a five-year-old with friends in high school? That was Keystone, though, and as diverse as we were in race, creed, and socioeconomic level, we were diverse in the ages of our friends. At the time, I was about 18 months younger than most of my own classmates. So, the high schoolers were fascinating to me, as they never talked “down” to me. Not one.

That’s how I was bold enough to address a “grown-up” and greet Mr. Bernal often, early in the morning when he arrived on campus and checked into the dining room to welcome the day. With his warm, loving smile, my eyes quickly found his and I went right up to him. He extended his hand and shook it firmly and bowed his six-foot-plus frame to meet me at eye level, without crouching down. His deep, rich voice resonated with his words.

Everyone received the same greeting, so I wasn’t any different than the others. He carefully studied all his “future” students. His senior high students adored him, and they considered him a mentor, friend, and almost equal, as he was really only about six years older than they were.

Later, Mr. Bernal would embark on master’s studies at St. Mary’s, while teaching. Although he ultimately left Keystone in 1966 to pursue doctoral studies full-time, it wouldn’t be the last time we’d see him. He’d come back occasionally to visit with some students who were now seniors themselves. Now, they addressed him as Ernie. He remained their friend and mentor, even if he wasn’t their teacher. And, St. Mary’s wasn’t that far away and we loved seeing him.

And, it wasn’t until Oct. 1, 2016, that I would learn the story behind how Ernie came to Keystone. I will quote directly from the beautiful words written by his wife, Carmen, and shared on the day of the unveiling of a most special honor, long overdue. As she writes,

“On the Monday after Labor Day, 1960, Ernie M. Bernal, a 22-year-old brand new graduate of St. Mary’s University, walked into Keystone School to start a job as high school English teacher and Government teacher. His job interview with Coach Edwin W. Eargle, Headmaster of Keystone, had been rather rushed and he was told, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ Coach added, ‘WE have a lot of applicants for this job.’ Ernie answered, ‘Not like me you don’t.’ And he was invited to sit back down and chat a while.”

Of course, he was hired.

Just as every student basically was involved in as many extracurricular activities as possible, Keystone faculty wore more than two hats. Originally asked to help grade the entrance exams screening potential Keystone students, Ernie asked if he could reach out to expand the pool of scholarship students by calling colleagues and friends at every high school across San Antonio including all socioeconomic backgrounds to send their best to try out.

They immediately agreed. It was because of Ernie Bernal that Keystone truly became ethnically diverse and seamlessly so. Throughout my entire twelve years at Keystone it was always the most wonderful learning experience everyone enjoyed. It wasn’t simply tolerance for others’ beliefs, we embraced our cultural diversity and brought out the best in one another, always with respect. That’s to Ernie’s insight and credit plus others’ good judgment.

Keystone graduated more than the usual number of future scientists and doctors, but they educated everyone to be critical thinkers and even philosophers, ready to take on anything and everything with a passion. Debate was encouraged, opposing ideas always welcome. Independent thought among students was cultivated. Spirits of creativity abounded.

For six years, from 1960 to 1966, Keystone flourished with the presence of educator Bernal. But as a child, I never knew that. While teaching at Keystone, he completed his M.Ed. in Education and had risen to Vice Principal of the High School, while teaching English and Social Studies. I only knew Mr. Bernal greeted me every morning with a smile, a bow down to shake my hand, and a lovely wish to have a great day, along with a gentle admonition to work hard. I did so willingly, with his encouragement.

As you can see from some of the yearbook photos, Russian, German, Spanish, French, and Latin were the languages taught in addition to Chemistry, Biology, English, Math, Physics, and Music. You took as many classes as you could handle, with the permission of Mr. Bernal and Coach Eargle, who assessed each student’s future college interests and gave permission.

I couldn’t wait to introduce my mom to my friend, Mr. Bernal. One day he was on campus after school let out, and my mom came to pick me up after working her secretarial civil service job at a San Antonio AFB. When they saw each other, there was a warm recognition in both of their eyes as she said to me, “Dawn Lee, I’ve known Ernie for years, since he was a young man.” Turns out, he had a first job working at the executive offices of the grocery store chain for which my mother had worked, long before she met and married my dad. She’d proudly watched him grow up.

Later that night, Mom pulled out a copy of an old newsletter she’d designed for the company, showed me his picture and told me how he was one of the young people the company hired for the summer and how hard he worked. I had long forgotten that for decades until I saw that exact same photograph in Ernesto’s tribute video Sunday night. It nearly tore my heart out as I flashed back to being five years old again, when I had just first met Mr. Bernal, and the memories flooded through as did the need to cry, but I didn’t. Not then at least.

People weave in and out of our lives, just as the beautiful “Weaving of Words: Quotations and Tributes” that were shared Sunday night by Rose Catacalos and Kevin McManus, two of his dear friends. Keystone students’ quotes were among those included. One of the most beautiful was shared by Patricia (Jeski) Goodspeed, “He was the most influential teacher I ever had.”

I smiled hearing that, as I’d been the one to read one of the most beautiful tributes Patti wrote for him just a year ago, on the occasion of a beautiful brick paver being unveiled on the campus of Keystone School, an event he attended where he was fully aware of the love of all those who’d come for that very special day and others who shared their love via e-mail.

During the Life Celebration, my mind wandered during the lovely preservice music. I reflected on meeting Mary Carmen Tafolla, when she entered Keystone’s ninth grade, the final year that Mr. Bernal was at Keystone. Carmen was one of the kindest upperclassmen, adorable with a loving personality and a twinkle in her eyes.

She always had her arms piled full of books, foreshadowing her future as 2012 San Antonio Poet Laureate (first ever) and 2015 Texas State Poet Laureate. After Mr. Bernal left Keystone, eventually Jim Klaeveman would come to teach English and fill the void Ernie left, challenging students to express themselves. It was Ernie’s destiny calling him, and he had even more powerful accomplishments ahead.

When Carmen graduated, she went to Texas Lutheran College in Seguin, then Austin College and ultimately, like many Keystone women, she’d go on to earn her doctorate degree at UT Austin. She distinguished herself as a writer quickly. It wasn’t until many years later that the perfectly magical pairing of Carmen and Ernie would be created. Manifesting miracles happens with faith, and this was ultimately just one more example of that.

In his collegiate career, Ernie taught at St. Mary’s University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, California State University–Fresno, Northern Arizona University, and ultimately became Dean of Education at University of Texas–Pan American. Carmen wrote prolifically, and no one in the world was prouder or more supportive of her than her Ernesto.

The Bernals, Carmen and Ernie, shared 38 magical, loving years together, weathered the loss of their first child, Cielos, and the health challenge that Carmen refused to give into, emerging victorious from that battle. Carmen lost her beloved mother (age 99), in January this year. Yet, she remained brilliant as an author, writing while faithfully caring for their children and providing daily loving care for Ernie, who fought Parkinson’s through Stage 5 and beyond. Never once did Carmen complain. Ernesto’s love and the love they shared was sufficient to see her through the demands of her daily life. Keystone kids are multitaskers—we insist on it. But there’s a limit, yet Carmen soared above the limit.

She has always been a hero (she-ro) to me, just because she was a published writer. I loved seeing her when I’d return to San Antonio for Keystone reunions, formal and informal, with all the upperclassmen I’d admired growing up. We were only a few years apart and class year was never a barrier to being part of a Keystone family activity. For so many years, Tommye Brennan Howard ’63 hosted a gathering in her home, or we’d meet at Jim’s Coffee Shop for a reunion burger and fries and hours of coffee and conversation.

I remember once we all came together specifically to help “save” Keystone from (I’m searching for a kind word here) less-than-gifted leadership. Many alumni were so concerned that we met with Keystone parents and board members to determine whether we could be helpful.

Ultimately the leadership continued a few more years. Independently, a few Keystone alumni and Ernesto formed the Camino School concept, and the San Antonio Gifted Education Foundation was started. This school was described in one of Ernesto’s numerous peer-reviewed academic publications.

What I never knew, even until I heard it Sunday night, was the pioneer and cutting-edge researcher that Ernesto had become throughout his educational and academic administrative positions. He never spoke of it at gatherings; he was entirely focused on what we were all doing in our lives and careers, forever the encourager who believed in us unconditionally. We thought everything was golden in academe.

My heart broke to hear on Sunday night, from two of Ernesto’s academic colleagues, that because of his brilliance and innovation and the fact that he was a natural pied piper of future educational leaders, others—often in a superior administrative position—were jealous of him. They tried to find ways and means of quashing his light, but they were not the gifted and talented educator that Ernie was, and they failed.

That they tried, though, hurt so badly to hear. But as one of his students recalled, he was merely amused at their attempts. Because he was smarter, he considered the source of the discontent and projected pity for the purveyor. Yet, you know he felt the pain of interdepartmental rivalry. Academic egos are often so fragile, and there’s such competition for the spotlight that it’s commonplace.

Ernie’s brilliance and respect garnered among his peers, from professional colleagues to students, would dwarf any insecure person. Yet, academics is supposed to be the home of sharing, interacting, exchanging ideas and getting to the best ones. However, it’s also home base for those who would prefer to argue over the location of their precious parking space.

Although those colleagues no doubt caused Ernie to seek new academic positions elsewhere at times, from those trials came the opportunities to work with even brighter minds, interacting with new students and reaching out to an even larger audience through the new works accomplished. What we heard was how Ernie had encouraged virtually every student he interacted with to become an honors student, to work hard, give back, love life, and be a good community servant. Several private “good deeds” never before heard about Ernie’s life included spending consecutive weekends chopping wood and delivering it to homes in need for winter heat across town; early on, despite a tight budget, he shared generously and often helping families in need.

One future CEO wrote about how, when Ernesto was being pushed out of a department by a jealous superior, he made a phone call to assure that young faculty would have jobs, personally placing them around the country. One younger colleague remembers he said she’d be “just perfect” for a job in company of which she is, 25 years later, now the CEO. These individual stories, loving messages and diverse testimonials formed the portrait of a man we all loved without even knowing these things.

On the 50th anniversary of Ernesto’s teaching career, many of us from Keystone gathered among the crowd in Olga and Al Kauffman’s home. The Keystone kids included: Bruce and Suzi Hughes, Bonnie Ellison, Wayne Vick, and my beloved big sister/friend, Tommye Brennan Howard. We paid tribute to the man who’d changed our lives forever with his love, of us and of education. It was wonderful to meet Father Eddie Bernal, Ernesto’s younger brother, whom he’d badgered his mother —relentlessly—to bring into their lives.

In an adorable story told Sunday, Ernie so greatly wanted a younger brother, and he asked his mother all the time for one. As was shared, Ernie’s mother explained to him that she was now a bit older and the possibility existed that it was risky and that she might have a child born with two heads. That didn’t deter Ernie one bit as he said, in Spanish, that he would absolutely love a baby brother with two heads!! We all exploded with laughter, knowing how passionate he was about his causes. Fr. Eddie was another of God’s gifts to everyone as he was the light of Ernie’s life for so many years, until a heart attack took him on May 29, 2016. Still, we were all together for Ernesto's special celebration, as lovingly created by Carmen, Olga, and Al, for all of us to enjoy.

It didn’t seem that long ago we were all together at the Kauffman home, offering our thoughts and written tributes, visiting with each other like it was 1963. It wasn’t. Sadly, illness struck Ernie and it came in the form of Parkinson’s Disease. It was a challenge he battled bravely and with dignity. In late summer 2014, Tommye and I had planned a day to bring lunch and visit with Ernie and Carmen. Tommye was bringing the food (you knew that already) and I would be bringing the Bill Miller’s iced tea (you knew that already, too). Sadly, the night before our planned day, Ernesto was admitted to the hospital, so the visit was postponed. “Soon,” we said. “We’ll do it very soon,” we all agreed.

Didn’t happen. Just two weeks later Tommye suffered a heart attack, and while in the hospital, it was discovered that she’d had end-stage cancer that had gone undiagnosed. A week later she was gone. Not bringing this up to mark yet more sorrow but only to emphasize the fragility of life and to pound it into my head to never miss a day telling people who are important in my life that they are important in my life, irreplaceable, and loved.

In 2016, when we were celebrating Ernesto’s paver unveiling at Keystone, Carmen was still reflecting Ernesto’s modesty in sharing only some information about his pioneering career work, noting that he’d “published the first research on the gifted Mexican American child, and became a well-respected scholar in the fields of gifted bilingual education, psychometrics, and test bias.”

In fact, as we learned things we’d never known before on Sunday, Dr. Ernesto Marroquín Bernal required multiple individuals speaking to share just a few of his achievements. He had been chosen to deliver the inaugural address at the Escola di Marketing, Educació, y Administració in Barcelona, Spain, because of his role in organizational change. Imagine if you will a young man from San Antonio, Texas with a passion for life and education, able to change the world with his brilliant mind. That was Ernesto.

He developed the Division of Bicultural/Bilingual Studies at UTSA in the 1970s together with Dr. Albar Peña and Dr. Tomás Rivera. The Bernals together with former Keystone students created Camino, a bilingual school for the gifted and creative child. We knew about Camino, but we didn’t know that Ernie had been honored by the College Board for his work exposing them to the testing bias of their instruments. What he showed in his research was that minority children were being mislabeled “culturally deprived” and he shone a light on the gifted Latino child, which had never been done before.

National recognition and accolades were heaped upon Ernesto in his lifetime but still they only measured one aspect of his impact. If any one area of accomplishment should be highlighted, it was his ability to teach others when statistics were actually valid and reliable vs. when they were false elements used as weapons to boost misguided precepts.

There was beautiful music incorporated into Ernesto’s life celebration, including “Danos Paz,” offered by Chayito Champion and Steve Arispe, then “Here I Am Lord,” and “On Eagle’s Wings,” with Helen Lloyd on guitar leading the congregation and the conclusion was the Champion family performing “Sevillana — an Expression of Despedida,” a final farewell.

A moving rosary was held to conclude Sunday night’s observations and reflections on his life. On Monday, Sept. 11, the funeral liturgy was held at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church with a Mass of the Resurrection. In both services, a magnificent video was shared that was prepared lovingly by David H.B.T. Marroquín. Son Israel Bernal read “High Flight” in commemoration of Ernesto’s love of flying. The Rosary Recitation, presented by so many faithful friends, reminded us to focus on giving thanks to God for his life.

It is said that angels get their wings when they transition from the earthly existence to the next life in Heaven. I’m inclined to dispute the timing on that concept, in that, upon reflection, surely we had an angel here among us for some 79 years of his life and more than 50 years among ours. We do not grieve for Ernie, who is at last free of the constraints that prevented him from communication, except through his loving, knowing eyes.

We grieve for his family and for ourselves that we had to say goodbye, but rather than wallow in yet more pity and pain of loss, it would seem fitting that we can rededicate our lives and our daily activities to doing our best, being our best, helping strangers and friends alike, encouraging children we meet to become honor students, to live lives filled with passionate pursuit of “the best,” in whatever form they perceive it. For if we can do that, and keep Ernesto’s example uppermost in our minds, then we can reach for the sky, just as he taught us, and be our most authentic selves. God bless you, Ernesto, and thank you for your love of the Keystone kids. You’re still my hero.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Belfry Music Theatre Gem Near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Holds History, Magic for Concerts

It’s only one hour north of Chicago to discover a hidden gem concert venue near the popular resort area of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Specifically nestled in beautiful Williams Bay, Wisconsin, is an intimate concert venue that has combined the beauty of an historic setting, and made it into a thriving scene of music entertainment. On Sept. 15 and 16, it will be home to capacity crowds who come to see The Buckinghams in concert.

It’s easy to get to. From their web site,, it is located 6 miles West of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin just south of Highway 50 on the corner of Highway 67 and Bailey Road. To assist you in planning your visit, visit their web site to show you exactly how to get there from Milwaukee, Chicago, and other locales. They’ve already done the heavy lifting for you with suggested lodging, lunch and dining options, and free parking to boot. This is a vacation destination!

On Friday and Saturday, Sept. 15 and 16, though, the music of The Buckinghams will ring through the theatre, bringing the best of their 1960s hits and 1970s classic rock favorites in a setting where every seat is a “best seat in the house.” That’s the beauty of intimate venues.

As of this writing, the Saturday, Sept. 16 show is 100% sold out and some tickets remain for the Friday, Sept. 15th show but act NOW. Don’t wait. You don’t want to miss this very special weekend of The Buckinghams at Lake Geneva! Tickets range from $42 to $57 and can be purchased at

It’s the perfect way to wrap up the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love as fall ushers in a changing of the seasons. And be sure and sign up for their mailing list. You never know who’s coming, but it’s guaranteed there will be tremendous music ahead for you to enjoy.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Powerful Healing of Words of Love

As this day marks another time of disbelief and anguish in life as it unfolds, and tumultuous times escalate, even in Bryan-College Station, words, words, and more words are flying back and forth. It’s easy to get lost in incessant outrage, and when every sentence you think begins with “Are you serious?” it looks bleak. Yet, something unique happened today, entirely unexpected, and I’d like to share it, hopefully as inspiration.

Early, early Sunday morning, I posted this remark on Facebook:

Facebook wanted me to share how my day went. 😂 😂 😂 Well let me just say this...there are times in your life when you are so grateful you have good friends that love you, and today was a shining example of that. No big story of woe to share here, no reason for worry or sympathy is needed. Just sharing joy this late night hour in having loving friends like family as I feel incredibly lucky. Thanks for asking Facebook and you have a good night, as well. Let us all find a reason to be thankful and share joy, plus the bonus is that we can all find something to be joyful over!

At that point, I wasn’t interested in taking my Facebook friends through my recent “surprise” that had happened just five hours earlier. Let’s just say that you don’t want to climb steep steps in a movie theatre wearing flip-flops. Enough said. But just a few words more about that.

No one cherishes a face-plant, but when one happens that looks worse than it feels, that’s a good thing, for starters. But that thought didn’t bring any comfort to dear friend #1, because I couldn’t tell what my face looked like because her face seemed very calm.

Her encouragement of me to let her take me to urgent care, though, wasn’t heeded because I didn’t need it. I knew I was fine. And first thing, a dear movie patron comes down from the row behind us (as I’d made my way to my seat, sort of), and tells me she’s first-aid certified and was reassuring that I should go get it checked out. Someone had managed to find three theatre employees and they were there like magic, with a bag of ice, paper towels, and one had a clipboard to get my information and see how else they could be of help.

Dear friend #1 followed me home, to assure that I made it home, and I was fine as I drove the easy distance home. On the way I called dear friend #2 and she said, “I was just thinking of you!!! What’s going on?” and I said, “Well, um, it’s a long story but…” and she said, “I’ll be at your front door in 20 seconds….I was waving at her, smiling, as I drove to the garage.

She was ever as calm as she always is and reassured dear friend #1 that she would make me go to urgent care and override me, if I didn’t have a change in what was going on at the time. Two hours later, I decided that it was “almost” better, and I had no pain at all, nothing was broken, everything was fine, but my face said otherwise. Long story short, things improved and she confirmed same, and I knew it was going to be great.

Before I went to sleep, I just felt so thankful on so many levels. Nothing hurt, nothing was broken, and kindness had abounded everywhere around me. Angels all, seen and unseen. I did the standard concussion protocol and woke up every two hours. Each time, I smiled that I knew full well my name, my address, and that I'd been surrounded by angels the entire time.

Dear friend number #3 brought breakfast over the next morning so I wouldn't have to go out. Then, lunch later that day with dear friends, #4 and #5, then life went on as usual. Text messages from all of the above checking on me in person and online continued. The joy of cover-up sunglasses will hide a multitude of facial imperfections. In fact, I rather liked how I looked in those sunglasses, and again, miraculously, nothing hurt. Nothing was broken. Blah, blah, blah.

Moving forward, on Monday, I drove to the theatre to talk to the manager to thank him for training his staff (he wasn’t there that night) to respond so kindly, professionally, and showing true caring. I know he was nervous at first seeing me, as anyone might be when walking in before he’d had a chance to call me. He said that I was on his call list for that day as he was back in the office and had just read the report. I said, “Relax, I’m here to share compliments, with you.”

We had a lovely chat and I asked him if there was something I could do to commend those staffers to him and he said he’d look up who was there and make sure they know. I left with guest passes and concession refunds and nothing but feeling fortunate for everything. Again--nothing broken, no pain. No reason to say "awww" or feel badly for me. Please don't. I am 100% fine!

I went home and found the theater’s web site and sent an e-mail to corporate management to thank the local folks for their actions. When you feel so fortunate, gratitude fills your heart and mind. The e-mail they returned to me was equally personal, thoughtful, and I look forward to returning there for the next movie. The only ironic, hilarious thing is that we were headed to see “Wonder Woman.” Well, I already own the cape, the glasses and the silver bracelets, but I’m not, and never was a Teen Titan, but I did grow up to be an avenger, of sorts, ha.

Life went on, work went on, and five days later, I look much better although I describe myself as “I know I look like a six-year-old helped me with my makeup,” as it usually brings a smile. And, it actually does look like a six-year-old helped me.

So when I went into College Station's Jason’s Deli tonight for a to-go order, I saw a very sweet young lady behind the to-go counter. She took my order and I figured I still looked pretty scary and she wasn’t even flinching, so I said, “Don’t worry, dear, I’m fine; one of those things, I’m very lucky.” And we had a lovely chat and I didn’t think I’d said anything unusual to set myself apart as any other to-go customer.

When I arrived home and started unpacking my healthy sandwich and sides, I was stunned when I saw the napkin, pictured in the photograph above, which reads: “You are a gorgeous person, inside & out. Thank you for being you!”

I don’t think anything has stunned me in a long time the way this message of kindness, included to be found later. I'd done absolutely nothing that I could think of that would have precipitated such kindness. Could not imagine what the trigger would have been, and yet, I gave up questioning the "why" and focused on my reaction. The smile on my face has lasted for two hours now. I’m still smiling.

As the news of the day from many sources around me, national news coverage over things I never thought I’d live to see, other news of hurtful actions against people I regard, who did nothing to deserve it except work hard and being kind, gracious professionals, in a day and time when everywhere you turn, people who are afraid to stand up and speak out remain frozen in their tracks…this small miracle happened.

As I’ve given it considerable thought, one message remained in my mind over and over. The power of words can heal a broken heart; the power of random acts of kindness can change a life and a person’s outlook long beyond the day’s end; and the power of one person to make a difference is endless. It begins with one voice, one action, one kind thought, one exceptional deed, one hug, one kiss, one heart reaching out for another, and from there, the possibilities are endless.

It’s like a domino effect, holding on to hope, to believing in the basic goodness in all people, and searching hard within them to bolster those who need lifting up, to being there for friends who are being treated poorly and unkindly, and offering faith and comfort when people are about ready to give up on the basic principle of “do the right thing, no matter what.” Together, kindness can conquer evil. Together, words of love can bring healing rather than division. Together, people taking the first step to move forward embolden others to reach out for another’s hand can and will make a difference.

Writer Thomas Bähler reminds, “Anything is possible.” Phillippians 4:13 reminds “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” And my mother said, “Never give up having faith, never.” Wise words all.

Smile, shine, work, believe, hope, pray, meditate, act positively with kindness, always. There’s more of “us” than there are of “them.” Every single day.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Glen Campbell passes away, leaving Baby Boomers inherently sad

Sitting at my computer reading the words surrounding Glen Campbell’s passing being shared across social media today leaves me feeling like we’ve all been robbed of part of our youth.

Wasn’t it just yesterday that we tuned in to “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” on television, and watched as a pure-D country boy from Delight, Arkansas, charmed his way into our homes and our hearts? That was 1969.

Delight, Arkansas, proudly claims their native son. It's 34 miles from Delight to Hope, Arkansas, the city best known as a birthplace of a U.S. President. It's also the birthplace of a good friend here in Bryan, Texas, and in my many travels there over past decades, the people there today are as gracious and kind as they were back when Glen was growing up there. Small towns always have charm, good stories, great vegetables to prepare, local color, and rich history worth sharing for the next generations. Most of all, they as a community are proud when one of their own "makes good." They claim you, and that says "everything" about you right there. You belong.

By the time of the "Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour," though, Glen was already a television veteran, having appeared on 21 episodes of “Shindig” from 1964–1965 He was a self-taught “guitar picker” of the first order in Arkansas terms. In Los Angeles music circles, he was a first-call studio musician. Years of practice made him one of the most accomplished raw talents ever to find acclaim without having been mentored or shepherded into the field by someone else. He found his own way to Hollywood. Therein began the problem, I think.

The characterization of country music singers as down-to-earth was never more deserving as when Glen Campbell wore the title. Every photo you see of him as a member of the fearless Los Angeles “Wrecking Crew” shows a clean-cut boy ready to go to work each day. He wore a white dress shirt and even a preppy sweater at times in the studio.

Left: Glen Campbell, Wrecking Crew member, in the studio. Photo credit: CNN.

Right (below): Leon Russell, Wrecking Crew member, in the studio. Photo credit: The Gretsch Pages

That was even back in the day when Leon Russell wore a Duck tail type haircut lathered in Brylcreem, before his “top hat” and Duck Dynasty beard. Every musician had a “look” in the 1960s, even in the times of the Wrecking Crew. Hal Blaine always had cool aviator glasses, Tommy Tedesco had a neatly-trimmed moustache, Carol Kaye had her cat-style eyeglasses and Glen Campbell always looked like the boy next door. Later he’d find turtleneck shirts and snappy country-western suits as his choice of attire. He always took the time to present a neat image.

True, they were for decades unknown celebrities, but today thanks to Denny Tedesco and social media, they're recognized for their genius and role in creating the music we all love and still own. No, anonymity didn't guarantee a happy life, but it preserved a stable existence. Clearly, not all celebrities lived excessive lifestyles, but the boy from Delight was transfixed by what he thought was his playground to enjoy and he chose not to miss a moment of it, the grand, the great, and the tragic. Eventually, he crashed and burned, badly. When it came time for Glen to record his own songs, naturally the Wrecking Crew would be his choice. Quick, hear the opening of “Wichita Lineman” in your head? Opening bass line that sets the whole song for you? Carol Kaye. And so it was that Glen Campbell, playing his guitar on hit after hit, including and especially the Beach Boys’ sound, helped establish and undergird the elements of every pop, rock, and easy listening song on virtually every label coming out of Los Angeles.

Yes, Glen was part of the Beach Boys for a time, but really, he was the first and only one of the Wrecking Crew to really ever break out of the pack on his own and achieve a level of stardom that eclipsed many of the people whose records he was on as a session player.

Someone brilliantly put together a YouTube video of Glen’s best guitar solos, and it’s definitely worth a look.

Glen lost himself inside the world that he'd longed to live in and belong to. In becoming a true member of "the scene," he left behind the safety and stability of the Wrecking Crew, whose lifestyles didn't include drugs and alcohol because they worked unglamorous hours and raised their kids on the money they made in the studios each day. Glen had belonged there, too, and stayed as long as he could, until his desire to stretch and grow overran his good common sense. He crossed the line of safety. While others partied hard, the Wrecking Crew (save for a choice few) have lived full, healthy lives because they knew better than to try and risk stability for drugs.

While he was sprinkled in stardust and lit by spotlights, hit after hit belonged to Glen Campbell, thanks in large measure to the songwriting talents of Jimmy Webb. As a Texan, probably my favorite of Glen’s songs was “Galveston,” penned by Webb.

Again, what's poignant in this video is that Glen allows Steve Wariner plenty of time to share the spotlight, and then he shows on his own solo the virtuoso that he was always will remain in the hearts and minds of those who love him.

Another Webb-Campbell hit was the angst-filled song that became ‘known’ was “Where’s the Playground, Susie,” which Glen poured his soul into as he sang. “Wichita Lineman” was probably the biggest hit of the Webb-Campbell combination, although I’m not relying on chart history, just strong subjective opinion.

Again, you see songwriter John Hartford on banjo on Glen's show. He was always surrounded by the best musicians, and in the studio, he was as well.

Then, perhaps others' favorite Webb-Campbell combo is on "By the Time I Get to Phoenix." In this version, Glen is definitely "young Glen" with his newly minted country-style suit, and his guitar with his name on the fretboard, the way many Grand Ol' Opry stars had on their custom guitars. It's charming, really, and it's country.

Glen Campbell’s life and loves and trauma-drama of his middle years were typical tabloid fodder. I recall being extremely angry reading his actions because he had made so many poor choices. It’s funny to read that sentence back, knowing he didn’t give a flying fig about what I, or anyone else, thought of him, and yet, whenever I collect music and follow the careers of singers I enjoy, musicians I admire, I’d like to think that I make smart choices. When they do something dumb, I dismiss them from my mind and say, “Well, that was great music for its time…moving on, now.”

But something happened in the middle of my disdain for Glen and his distracted craziness as he played victim to “living life large,” and that was basically so many of his fans also gave up on him, stopped caring, and he went to being a caricature of himself, it seemed. It wouldn’t have been inappropriate to ask him, “Didn’t you used to be Glen Campbell?”

He had a wicked funny sense of humor. He was popular on television talk shows and kept the hosts in stitches as his natural responses to their questions revealed country-boy charm mixed with big-city wisdom and America sort of fell in love with him again. All was forgiven, sort of, kind of. He was, after all, a maniacally good guitarist who was a savant at how to deliver a song.

In 1993, I had the great fortune of traveling with a dear friend as we took her mother to the mecca trip of all mecca trips: Branson, Missouri. It had been a bucket list item for her and as we made the trek, we saw six shows in three days. The major league brilliant college-age showband backing consummate showman Andy Williams at his Moon River Theatre, to Tony Orlando giving his all at the newly christened Yellow Ribbon Theatre, to Wayne Newton (of course!) being Wayne Newton, Shoji Tabuchi at the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre (ask anyone about that theatre and one word comes to mind—bathrooms!—elegant!), and then Glen Campbell and the Smothers Brothers on the same bill, just like the old days on television.

I remember that Glen’s oldest daughter, Debby, performed with him, and it seemed as though the onstage duo was mending hearts as well as blending songs as they reunited to make music. Glen’s musicality was never in question. He played about every instrument someone tossed at him, and made it all look easy. It felt good to watch a calmer, gentler Glen take on the music and connect with the audience “the way he used to do.”

Glen Campbell and his daughter Debby, in concert. Photo credit: Daily Mail.

Fast forward to years later and the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. Never mind the middle of his life, forget the trauma-drama that surrounded much of his conduct and waste of time and talents…America opened their hearts with sympathy to the then current plight and admission that years of living as he lived remained forgotten. The origin of Alzheimer’s in a person’s body is still not very quantifiable but no matter the origin, there it was alive and thriving in Glen Campbell’s brain, robbing him of his own best (and worst) memories. Perhaps that wasn’t so bad.

Either way, at the end of his life, Glen was fortunate enough to marry a woman who provided great loving care for him, and gave his life dignity and meaning at the very end, when it was most important to him.

One of his best friends in the final years of his life was rocker Alice Cooper. Although the two seem an unlikely combination, as this recent video interview shows, the two men were like brothers. It's heartening to hear Alice's words as they bring comfort and consolation to know that all the best circumstances surrounded Glen as his condition began to increase.

I’m not sure what the last things were that Glen Campbell actually thought about as he approached his end of days, confronting his mortality, and being relieved that a long struggle was about to end, but whether or not he realized it, he brought hours and years of joy to so many lives with his music. His talents remain unforgotten among those who respect session players; his sense of humor will always define him, and at the heart of soul of the troubled Glen Campbell, deep down inside, that kid from Delight, Arkansas, really showed up proud in the big city, where he made his fame and fortune on talent, guts, and determination.

Sharing a special video of a favorite song, with both Glen and John Hartford, who wrote the song, performing and showing Glen’s gift of harmony and humility as he allows the songwriter to have a showcase of his own. That’s the true strength of starpower, when you can give the credit where it is due. The singer makes the beautiful song a major hit, but it’s even more beautiful when the singer thanks the songwriter for the hit that brought the magic.

Rest in peace, Glen Travis Campbell. You’ll always be gentle on my mind.

Photo credit: TWC Central.