Columns

A Different Christmas Season

Suddenly it is Christmas. In this strangest of years, we celebrate the birth of Christ in the midst of a pandemic that shows no signs of abating. Families face hard choices, especially those who are out of work. For some families, there will be an empty chair at the dinner table — if they choose to get together at all today. For front-line health care workers and first responders, today could be just another day trying to save lives in hospitals filled with patients who have contracted COVID-19. My prayers are with both the patients and the workers — who no doubt are exhausted after 10 long...

Read more...

Nuggets From 19th-Century Newspapers

Since going into stay-at-home mode last March, I have spent many hours transcribing articles from newspapers published in the 1830s through the 1850s, for a history book project. In the 35 years since I originally did research for a master’s thesis at UT-Austin, millions of newspaper pages have been digitized and are searchable. Now I can type in the keywords, and articles pop up that can be saved as pdfs and later transcribed. To date, I have compiled about 150,000 words’ worth of articles on everything from tariffs to slave-trading, the Regulator-Moderator War in Shelby County, and Sam Houston’s...

Read more...

Becoming the Bottle Washer Watcher at Made-Rite

The Made-Rite Co. here in Longview recently announced it is selling its longtime Dr Pepper distribution franchise back to the soft drink’s parent company and will concentrate on selling “high-growth, premium products,” such as energy drinks and fancy water. The company began bottling soft drinks in Marshall in 1925, and at one point had more than a dozen bottling plants in several states. The Longview plant opened  in 1963. Ten years later, I was working at Made-Rite full-time while finishing my sketchy high school career by correspondence course. I worked there for two years, through...

Read more...

‘Queen’s Gambit’ spurs chess craze

The sale of chess sets has boomed this Christmas season, thanks to a Netflix mini-series called The Queen’s Gambit, which we watched recently. Goliath Games, a toy company that sells several types of chess sets, told NPR that sales are up more than 1,000 percent compared to last year. Other companies have similar stories. Chess has become the sourdough bread starter in the latter months of 2020, after the series debuted in late October. The Queen’s Gambit features an orphaned girl of 9 who is taught chess by the janitor hiding in the basement, who hides down there replaying famous chess games...

Read more...

Well, of course, we’re anxious… but thankful

According to a recent poll released (recently) by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), 62% of Americans feel more anxious than they did at this time last year. That marks a sizable increase over APA polls of the past three years, in which the number has ranged between 32% and 39%. When asked what made them extremely or somewhat anxious, Americans said the top issues were: keeping themselves and their family safe (80%), COVID-19 (75%), their health (73%), gun violence (73%) and the upcoming presidential election (72%). — American Psychiatric Association |——| When I read the above...

Read more...

The Assault on Democracy

Two longtime friends served as poll workers on Nov. 3. Both are about my age and thus by definition considered high-risk to COVID-19. Still, they felt it was their patriotic duty to assist voters in the Central Texas cities in which they live. I admire their willingness to volunteer. To be clear, they weren’t poll watchers for one party or another. They were there to direct and assist voters as they cast their ballots. Across this country, people both paid and unpaid performed the arduous task of working this election, with the highest turnout in American history in sheer numbers, and the highest...

Read more...

The Leaves That Are Green Turn to Brown

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — Andy Williams   The dulcet-voiced crooner was referring to Christmas. For me, it’s November in East Texas, as the leaves turn to red, yellow and brown, and shower down — our version of a New England blizzard, but far easier to tolerate. Most of our sliding glass windows are open, since I finally found someone to custom make replacements for the missing screens. Before that, we could only open a few windows throughout the house. Now a gentle breeze sweeps through, bringing the smell of autumn — moist, decaying leaves, the occasional...

Read more...

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Once again, we have gone through the ritual of changing our clocks, this time reverting to standard time and regaining the hour of sleep stolen from us in early March. Our dogs now start whining to be fed at 6 a.m. since their internal clocks think it’s breakfast time, generally served at 7. The sun rises earlier and sets earlier, both of which are fine by me. I awake with the sun, so this means I rise earlier and feel more productive. That might be pure perception, but it works for me. Of course, falling back means 2020 is one hour further away from coming to its end — and this has been...

Read more...

We’re In This Hostage Crisis Together

Every day I wake up, hummin’ a song But I don't need to run around, I just stay at home And sing a little love song, my lover, myself If there's something that you wanna hear, you can sing it yourself  — “Everything is Free,” by Gillian Welch |———| Late every afternoon, just before decamping to the back-deck gazebo to read and listen to NPR, I pick up my Yamaha classical guitar and run through several scales, then play a half-dozen or so songs. The lyrics above are part of one of the songs I have learned to play. “Everything is Free” ostensibly is about how streaming music...

Read more...

Seeking The Beauty, The Blessings

A large succulent grows in a pot on our side deck, under the careful care of my Beautiful Mystery Companion. She often moves plants around, trying to find just the right combination of sunlight and shade. This season, she scored a goal by placing this succulent, called the Zulu Giant, or stapelia gigantia, in this spot. It has exploded in size and bloomed for the first time in the years she has cared for it. The bloom is exotic and somewhat creepy, as can be seen in the accompanying photo. That dark spot in the center of the bloom consists of the detritus of dead flies, which is how the bloom is pollinated....

Read more...