2020

The Red-Headed Stranger Turns 87

Willie Nelson, our state’s greatest living treasure, turned 87 yesterday. I spent a chunk of the day, as usual, in front of the computer in my study, handling library interlibrary loans online and continuing to compile research while sheltering in place. In honor of Willie’s birthday, KUTX — the sister station to KUT, Austin’s NPR station — played his music all day and night long. That was my background music. Over the hours that Willie played through the speakers, the breadth and depth of his music stood out, as well as his virtuosity on Trigger, his well-worn Martin N-20 guitar with...

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The View From My Window

Don't let us get sick Don't let us get old Don't let us get stupid, all right? Just make us be brave And make us play nice And let us be together tonight — Warren Zevon I have been playing a lot of Warren Zevon on Spotify lately while sheltering in our home and researching what I hope will be a book someday. The late singer-songwriter, author of such classics as “Werewolves of London” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” died of mesothelioma in 2003 at the too-young age of 56. He was revered by fellow songwriters like Jackson Browne — who helped him secure his first record contract...

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An Easter To Remember

The tornado sirens began blaring early Easter morning, as nearly ceaseless peels of thunder sent the dogs scurrying to hide beneath our feet. We still had power, so I checked the weather radar online. I then walked around, peering out the large picture windows that are the main architectural feature of our house. That’s what East Texas men do when the tornado siren sounds: stare out the window looking for the funnel cloud. Of course, if I actually saw one, it would be too late to do much about it. Meanwhile, my Beautiful Mystery Companion, who had already been up a couple of hours, was checking...

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Reading “The Plague” during a pandemic

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Surely he will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence.  He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday. — Psalm 91: 1-6 A friend of more...

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Street Sweepers And Paying It Forward

As I sat in my study the other day in front of the computer screen, reading a digitized issue of the San Augustine Red-Lander from 1841, I heard a loud vehicle outside. At first I thought it was a UPS or FedEx truck. We live at the end of a cul-de-sac, so they pass by often these days making their rounds, as more of us try to stay out of stores and order online. I looked out the window and saw it wasn’t a delivery truck but rather the city’s street sweeper, making its rounds, picking up the oak clusters and pine tree noodles that carpet the pavement. The driver made a couple of rounds and soon...

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Notes While Sheltering in Place

Scenes from East Texas during the pandemic: • I reluctantly took advantage of the old folks’ early-bird special and showed up at Walmart at 6 a.m. Tuesday with a sanitizing wipe clutched in hand. My Beautiful Mystery Companion and I have sheltered in place for more than a week now. We needed some items, and the crowd is much thinner at that hour. Not empty, though. Older folks walked the aisles, some in scooters, some in masks and gloves — a few with all three. We all kept our social distance even if it meant making detours and awkward dances past the meat counters. Many of the shelves...

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Anup: A Gentle, Talented Soul Passes Away

In the midst of this pandemic that has upended all of our lives, many folks in Longview and East Texas mourned the passing of an extraordinary man who died too young and touched so many people — from the homeless to the wealthy, the well-connected to the disconnected. Anup Bandhari died on March 10, just days after he turned 40, and six months after he went into cardiac arrest and suffered an irreversible brain injury. So many lives were touched by this gentle, generous soul during his 20 years in East Texas. Anup came to America from Nepal in 2000 to study fine art, photography and the culinary...

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Sam Malone Sparked Fascination With Texas History

Recently, my Beautiful Mystery Companion asked about the time period when Texas was an independent nation – 1836 to 1845. I started spouting off key dates from memory: February 23, 1836: The siege of the Alamo begins. March 2, 1836: Texas declares independence from Mexico April 21, 1836: Texas defeats Mexican forces and captures Gen. Santa Anna in the Battle of San Jacinto. And so forth. My BMC asked, “How do you know all these dates without looking them up?” I shrugged. Beats me; I just do. There are far more useful mental skills worth possessing that I lack, too many to enumerate...

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Morse Code: What Hath God Wrought?

I recently watched The Spy, a Netflix show set in Syria and Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. Actor Sacha Baron Cohen is embedded in Syria. Inside his apartment, he hunches over the telegraph key, tapping out messages in Morse Code that are eagerly received and transcribed at the other end. The transcribed message is quickly transported to his handlers in Israel. I’m a little hazy on the details of the series beyond that. Television shows tend to run together in my memory. So do novels. My faulty fiction memory baffles my Beautiful Mystery Companion since my recollection of historical...

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A Mysterious Bookstore

FORT WORTH – On a windy, warm winter Sunday we explored downtown Cowtown, from Sundance Square to the various stores filled with visitors, the fountain ringed with children. We turned a corner onto Throckmorton Street. A red neon sign glowed in a storefront window: BOOKS. Another sign at the front door proclaimed: Yes, We’re Open. A faded neon sign hung from the building’s corner: Barber’s Book Store: Est. 1925. Of course, we had to enter. Barber’s Book Store is said to be the oldest bookstore in the state. It has been in its current location since 1955. At 95 years old, that...

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