Bricks with Names

April 27, 2013

There is more than one way to leave a legacy. You can give someone a gift or an inheritance. A picture or a ring. But a brick? This is from ‘Notes To My Kids”.

To Roger and Jane:

When you were young, the Fort Worth Public Library was engaged in a project to revamp and expand the downtown Central branch. It was in the early 1990s, and they were short of money to do this ambitious project. As a result, they began a rather unique fundraising effort. This was the sale of bricks, with people’s names or wishes inscribed on them, which would be placed on the building’s sidewalks. Since I was a regular patron of the branch, I decided to buy one for each of you. Thus the “Bricks with Your Names” were born.

I remember going downtown to the branch and writing out the check and filling in the forms with what I wanted the bricks to say. As you know, I put your full names on them. Some months later, the bricks started appearing around the edges of the building; and one day, I went there, and I saw yours in the area they call “Peter Rabbit Court” on the south side of the building on 3rd Street. Your bricks were not next to each other but were just a few feet apart. More than once I took you to see them. But like most little kids, you were not particularly excited about them; you were more focused on things like getting me to take you to McDonalds or Charlie’s Pizza for lunch. I bet I was not the only parent who was greeted with such a lack of appreciation!

Many citizens bought these bricks and are now around the perimeter of the redone and stately façade of the building, which unfortunately had several bad water leaks and took even more time and money to repair. You could walk over the bricks and see the names of other people, both young and old, and I wondered who they were. What kind of people were they? What memories were enshrined by these little monuments under my feet? These little bricks were the signs of other lives and the host of memories that went with them.

When I see your bricks even after so long—I still visit them—they make me go back through the years and think of you when you were little. In their innate smallness, they now paint the large canvass of your early lives in my mind. These little bricks will make those times live on in a way, perhaps when you visit them one day with your own yet-to-be-born kids. Also maybe in the minds of others who never knew us as they too walk over them in silence as I have done many times. Maybe they will wonder who the other people were, the people with their names on the bricks at the library downtown


Granddad Tom Dies

April 21, 2013

With the recent death of my Aunt Pat,  the death of my Dad came back into my mind.  I wrote about this in “Notes To My Kids”.  It is one of the longer notes in the book, there is  a lot to tell when such things happen in lifes ups and in this case down.

To Roger and Jane:

When you are young, you think your parents and grandparents have always been around and will always be around. Unfortunately, that is never true. We all get old and finally die. Such is the sad nature of life. When someone who loves you dearly passes away, the event is even sadder than it usually is. That was the case with my dad, your beloved Granddad Tom.

My dad, like MeeMaw, loved you two without a doubt and without conditions. When he was around you, you could see his eyes were filled with happiness and delight. He would play with you, take you places with him like the store close to their house to get candy and snacks, and spend endless hours in the swimming pool with you with a big smile on his face.

He was the epitome of a grandfather. He was patient when you were acting up, cared for you if you were sick, and of course, showered endless gifts on you on your birthdays and Christmas. He did not give you things and then not spend time with you like some people do; he gave and was with you because that made you happy and brought glee and variety into your little worlds. 

When he got sick, I knew it was not going to end well. Roger was old enough to understand what was happening, but Jane, you were not old enough to really get what was happening.  When they operated on him at the hospital in Denton, the news that he had a large cancerous mass was devastating to us all. The surgeon could not get the entire tumor; and remembering how brain cancer got my granddad, the ubiquitous “TR,” I knew what was in store for him. 

He started chemotherapy, which lasted for some months and wore on him like it does most people who endure it. He got sick and then felt better, and went back the other way more than once. He lost weight and looked thin. Being an athlete in the past, his physical changes were most shocking because he had always been strong and healthy (except for his colitis, which he had since he was 18). After a point, he stopped the treatment because it was not going to save him, and he was tired of fighting. He even asked his oncologist if he could “speed it up.”  “It” being the cancer, as you might guess.  After the many trials he had been through since I was in college, I guess he had decided to struggle no longer and pass on.

The thing about this whole process that still makes me cry is the last time I saw him and talked to him. He was back in the hospital in Denton and not doing well. We knew the end was not far off. Your mom and I were about to take you to Disney World for a much needed vacation. You knew your granddad was very sick, but you were still looking forward to going there.

I went to Denton to talk to him. On his hospital death bed, he made it clear that he wanted us to go ahead and take you to Disney and not cancel the trip to remain with him. He meant it, saying we might not get another chance to do such a trip. In the end, I agreed, hugged him, told him I loved him, and drove back to Fort Worth, crying my eyes out.

I talked to your mom about what he said; my eyes again full of tears, and we decided to go to Florida, even with him near death because the cancer had spread so much. We flew to Florida and had fun with you for a few days, even though my mind was far from being at ease. I would talk to MeeMaw every day and get the latest on how he was. He was not doing well and then sunk into the coma he never awoke from. We flew back home and awaited the inevitable.

Your aunt, MeeMaw, and I stayed by his side at the hospital. MeeMaw had me shave him, even though he was unconscious. She said he never went unshaven and wanted him to look clean and not so bad–certainly, she was seeing him well and fit as he always had been before. So I got a razor and some shaving cream and gently cut his whiskers and washed his face. I recalled how he helped me when I had back surgery and thought a shave was a small way to repay his acts of assistance and love he had always given me.

We knew he was about to die because his vital signs were weakening. Early in the morning one day, we watched him take his last breath.  MeeMaw bent over, kissed him, said she loved him, and started to cry, as we all did that day.

We took you kids to the funeral. It was the usual Turner/Couch affair. The funeral was at the Vernie Keel Funeral Home in Gainesville, and then the burial at Valley View Cemetery, where the rest of my family also rests—your Uncle Mike included. My uncle, who was a minister, Uncle Charles, did the service. Some of the family wanted me to do the eulogy given my gift of gab, but I simply could not do that; my emotions were too strong to do it. Thankfully the service was over, and the mourning began.  

One thing that I remember the most was not the funeral or his suffering, but instead, the short dream I had right after his burial. I awoke in my old bed after seeing a brown void in my personal dreamland, where his face appeared with no body.  He had a big, gentle smile on his face but said nothing at all. His image lingered for a bit, and I felt like he was saying everything was okay, live your life, and do not be so sad. We can debate if dreams come from within our minds or from somewhere else, like God or a ghost, but the vision of him was stark and real enough and made me feel less down. And life did go on.

After the burial, we stayed with MeeMaw a couple of days and helped her with some things around the house and the estate-related matters.  Then we returned back home. I can still picture the sad look on MeeMaw’s face, as we drove away from the house. The pool was still there, but its biggest fan would never jump in it again with the ones he loved.

In the end, we will all open and pass through the gate of forever one day. When we do, let us hope we showed the ones in our family the same love he showed you and the rest of us each day. He was not perfect—no one is—but I know he was the perfect granddad for you. For that alone, you should always be thankful for his part in your lives and remember him well.


Mom and Dad Get Food Poisoning

April 14, 2013

Ever get some bad Chinese food?  We did….this is from “Notes To My Kids” of couse.

To Roger:

One Saturday when you were little, your mom and I ate Chinese food for lunch at a place where we had dined many times, as did MeeMaw and Granddad Tom. That day, the pork tasted good, but didn’t turn out to be.

After dinner, we started feeling nauseous and started to throw up. So much so that we knew we had food poisoning. We were to the point of being incapacitated. We called Grandmama and Granddad Harry for help.

Your grandparents arrived, and we were ready to go to the hospital. Granddad Harry stayed with you at the house while Grandmama drove us to Harris Hospital. We both had solutions in case we threw up in her car. I had an empty paint bucket, which I hugged tightly as I puked as we sped down I-30 to the emergency room (which we had been to before with you when you had bronchiolitis for a week when you were a year old).

And not too soon, we arrived at the hospital and were taken inside where a doctor examined us.  Yes, we had severe food poisoning and were placed in waiting rooms, after being given shots of relief—Demerol injected with the largest and most painful needles ever invented by mankind.  The medicine felt cold going in my rear, but soon my stomach was much better. 

For some reason, the hospital placed both your mom and me in the same room. I can remember the surprise of one young nurse, who came in to check on us when she saw a man and a woman in the same room. How often does that happen in a hospital? The nurse was certainly shocked until I explained why. We were married, and both had bad pork at our favorite Chinese restaurant (which we never went back to, by the way. No surprise, right?) We certainly were not in the room to engage in some medical ward “hanky-panky”, like I remember seeing on some TV movie when I was a kid. Then the nurse smiled a little, understood, and checked our vital signs. Still, this was not something that happened very often, and the nurses joked with us about that.

Soon enough, we got better and I went home first; your mom had to stay one more night than I did, as she had it worse. When we were  back home, we grabbed our stomachs remembering the agony of the pork that made us so sick, but we also grabbed our stomachs laughing about being in the same hospital room together those nights. Indeed, the Chinese food was very bad, and we wanted to forget its dire effects.  But the “yin and yang”, (I know, that was bad) of the whole event was something to always remember and grin about.



Baby Roger at the Park

April 13, 2013

 Life is full of hard times.  But they are  followed by peace as the severe storms of existence fade away.  This is a story about one such calm after a raging gale.

To Roger:

One warm spring day after you were born and finally home, I put you in your blue stroller and pushed you down Sandy Lane to the Old Park.  That day was like so many that time of the year.   It was warm and sunny with a few fluffy white clouds streaming to the north on the south breeze. It was a perfect day to be in the park with you when you were little.

What I remember the most about that afternoon, a Saturday I think, was holding you against me on a swing. We went back and forth many times, and you fell asleep against my chest.  You were out like a light, as I faced north to the other side of the park, where I could see the fence of our back yard with the big oak tree towering over the roof of our house on Monterrey Drive. It was a view of our little part of the world from what became a favorite place for you and your sister.

As I looked at our house, I kept swinging slowly with you. There was no one around, and the park was quiet and still. The birds were chirping above our heads, and the wind swooshed through big oak trees. Except for the brief sound of a car on Sandy Lane, everything was calm and serene.

And that instance of quiet, the all-surrounding silence, was most clear that day—a time of calm after the chaos of your birth. There you were, my little boy, sound asleep in my arms. You, who had been so very sick, were now home and well with your dad, who loved you so very much.

That time was very special to me. You seemed to know you were safe and sound as you slept soundly up against me on that swing in the Old Park near our former home. I’ll never forget that moment—an instant of peace when I thought back about the terrible time you had been through not so long before. We all go through awful times of peril, fear and turmoil and they eventually transition back to great calming moments of safety, tranquility and quiet. That peaceful, warm spring day was one of those great days.





Wolf Calling in Fort Worth

April 7, 2013

This is a Note from Notes To My Kids.  It is a temporal blend of my time with them doing something my dad and I did when I was a kid.    This will be in the fourth book one day but there I will tell my experiences doing this with my dad.

To Roger and Jane:

One weekend when you came to my house in Fort Worth, we did something my dad and I did when I was a kid. We went wolf calling. Wolf calling, you say? There are no wolves locally.  True, but there are lots of coyotes, and that is really what we went to call one evening.

After telling you we were going to try wolf calling, attracting them that is, I identified a place not too far from my house that looked like good ground for this endeavor. There were three hills covered with post oaks and bordered by an open pasture that was being graded for new houses. In fact, I had seen some coyotes there in broad daylight when I went walking up there. There was a small creek to the southwest of the hills that I guessed the coyotes used for water. You could get into the area since was no a gate and the dirt “roads” in the construction area were well packed. So after buying a wolf caller, a device used to make the sounds of animals that would attract the predator desired, we were ready to go. So one cool and moonless fall evening, we drove up there and started to call the coyotes.

We sat on the tailgate of my pickup, the dear old F150 I had for so long, and I started making the squealing noises my dad had showed me how to do long ago on my granddad’s farm near Valley View. To see the coyotes, we had a large flashlight with red plastic taped over its end, so we could cast light on them without them seeing the beam—coyotes are supposed to be color blind—thus, the red plastic used.

I kept the calls going at irregular intervals, just as my dad taught me, paused, and shined the light around where I thought there would be coyotes. Like so many times when I was a kid, there weren’t any to be seen.

Yes, many times no coyotes will appear when you call them, even though they are nocturnal creatures; and many times are not very scared of humans. But that night, they were elsewhere or were scared to come out towards us.

While we wanted to see the local cousins of the domesticated dogs, we were not successful.  But the result was not what was really important. The real result of that night together was being able to do something with you that most urban dwelling kids never heard of, much less had the chance to do. Thus, we did just that, and I also got to remember similar fun nights with my dad that had happened decades ago on a hillside pasture near the two stock tanks on dark, cold nights on my granddad’s farm. I hope one day you will recall that night with the same fondness, and maybe even try it with your now unborn kids.  Perhaps, you’ll have better luck than we did, and the coyotes will come out for you on that night to come.