2020

Furled Flag A Metaphor For Our Times

An American flag hangs from our front porch. The flag is three-by-five feet. It is attached to a pole that juts diagonally from a porch post. The flag often gets wrapped around the pole when a breeze kicks up, often winding itself four or five times around the pole. When that happens, I hold on to the post with one hand, lean out and unwrap the flag — whose corner I’m barely able to reach — so that it hangs properly once again. I have repeated this action hundreds of times in the eight-and-a-half years we have lived in this house. During the last several months — with a pandemic killing...

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Mystery Vines and a Banana Spider

For the past two summers, a weekend ritual — in addition to mowing, trimming and cleaning up the yard — has been to don a pair of gloves and pull up a 30-gallon trash can’s worth of a pungent mystery vine that threatens to strangle the mature azalea bushes that grace much of our yard. The mystery vine appeared after the May 2019 straight-line windstorm, which left four trees on our house and several more down in the backyard. When the debris was chain-sawed, chipped and hauled off, much of the back and side yard was now in full sun. That’s when the mystery vine cropped up, winding its way up the azaleas,...

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Teaching Class Online A Different Animal

I have been teaching a photography class online for nearly a month now, meeting via Microsoft Teams with my students every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. As always, my LeTourneau University students are intelligent and engaged. But there are definitely challenges to this type of teaching. Two words often bandied about in education quarters this pandemic season are synchronous and asynchronous. The former means “at the same time.” The latter means the opposite. There has been quite a debate in public education about which method to use for teaching online. I am teaching synchronously, meaning...

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Molly Ivins Knew How to Raise Hell

On Aug. 30, about 100 folks raised a glass on Zoom to toast the memory of Molly Ivins, the acerbic and hilarious columnist who died of cancer in 2007. It was Molly’s birthday, and the event was a fundraiser for the Texas Observer, the venerable, gritty progressive magazine that she once co-edited when in her 20s. I have subscribed to the Observer for more than 40 years and have written a few stories for it — the most recent four years ago, the first back in 1982. That first piece, adapted from a creative writing class I took under Bill Stotts in graduate school at UT-Austin, was the first piece...

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A Birthday Call From My Compadre, Jaìme

My longtime compadre Jaìme called me Sunday afternoon, the first time we have talked in five years. The number on the phone said the call was from Mexico. I have had a couple similar missed calls in the past month or so, which I was unable to return, since I don’t pay for cell service into Mexico. But I suspected it might be him, so I answered. Sure enough: “Mister Gary, it’s Jaìme.” My Spanish is rusty and was mediocre at best even when I spoke it regularly with him. Jaìme speaks a smattering of English but generally expected folks like me to learn Spanish by osmosis. That was actually...

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Don’t Mess With The Mail

Our highly reliable postal carrier is a cheerful, middle-aged woman with blond hair and wire-rim glasses. Often, we get packages — usually from Amazon and delivered by the U.S. Postal Service — that won’t fit in the mailbox. When that occurs, she climbs out of her un-airconditioned cargo van, regardless of the weather, and brings not only the boxes but the regular mail and puts all of it on our front porch. My study is next to the front door and often I’m at the computer. Sometimes I’ll see her walking back down the driveway out the nearby picture window. I’ll open the door, holler...

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Love Your Neighbors; Wear A Mask

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV) |———| The pandemic has brought out both the best and the worst in people. The best includes health-care workers, first responders, grocery store workers, delivery truck drivers and all those working on the front...

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Another Granddog Joins The Family

The newest granddog arrived last weekend. Mollie, a 2-pound, 8-week-old Maltese spaniel, at the moment is chewing on my shoe, which is on my foot. I am dog-sitting for daughter Abbie and boyfriend Colton while they run errands. The pocket doors in my study are closed to keep our four curious critters away. They would never intentionally hurt this white ball of fluff, but I’m not taking any chances. So, as I work, Mollie alternates between chewing on my shoe, which she’s too tiny to actually damage, chasing her toys around the study, or emitting random high-pitched barks. I move about cautiously...

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Fondly Remembering Jim Chionsini

I met Jim Chionsini in late June 1982 when I drove from Austin to San Augustine to interview for the job of managing editor of the weekly San Augustine Rambler. He had bought the paper from Sam Malone the year before. Sam still ran a print shop in the same building. I was working for the Texas Air Control Board as a photographer and hating it. We met at Fairway Farm, a legendary golf course a few miles out of town. In the 1950s, Fairway Farm was ranked one of the top courses in the country. It closed in the early 1990s and has reverted back to pine trees and hay meadows. Jim was playing in the annual...

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Peppers, Birdsong, Plucking and Birthdays

It’s only a paper moon Sailing over a cardboard sea Ella Fitzgerald There is a sense of unreality in this new world of masks, curbside pickup, staying home and safe, learning the tools needed to teach online, FaceTiming friends and family, doing CrossFit workouts in our den instead of the gym. And so on. Further notes from the pandemic: |———| Our vegetable crop still flourishes, save for the sole tomato plant in a container. It yielded at most 20 tomatoes. That came to about a buck a tomato, indicating my future does not lie in vegetable farming. But the serrano, cayenne and various...

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