Uncle Hark and Aunt Hazel

June 14, 2017

Something about a dear great aunt and uncle.  And an old car.


We had a great aunt and uncle who lived a few miles from us in Bolivar.  Uncle Hark (Harvel) and Aunt Hazel Martin.  Hark was Muh’s brother and Hazel his wife.  They had a son but he died from leukemia and in many ways they never got over that loss since he was their only child.  Regardless of that tragedy they were always special to us.  Not just because they were kind and loving to us but also for a possession of theirs that also was special.  And what was that unique and wonderful thing Jeff?  A Model A Ford that Hark had restored.

By trade Hazel, like most women then, was a housewife and Hark was a car mechanic and worked in Denton at Beck’s Garage near our old house on east Congress Street near downtown.  Of course Dad and Mom took our cars there for repairs but we went and saw him there too when we were out and about.  I can remember his big smile as he would come up to us in his oil stained overalls inside the garage.  Nowadays no one wants you in the garage due to OHSA’s zealous pursuit of safety.  But not then, we would just go in like the cars.

Due to his trade, Hark had bought and apparently restored an old Ford Model A.  And that is the ultimate reason for this Note.  Sometimes on Saturdays he and Hazel would jump in it and drive to our house in Ranch Estates which was about ten miles south of their house in Bolivar.  I do not know if he came down I-35 or drove the farm roads down through Krum but come he did with the Model A’s motor running loud and fine.

When they arrived my sister and I would pile in it and we would go for a ride.  To us it was almost like riding a carnival ride, the experience was something wondrous and fun that we always looked forward to and loved just as much as we loved him and Aunt Hazel too. But after we grew up we did not see them as much and they grew old and the cars of our own lives went down different roads.

Over time cars wear out, run no more, go to the junk yard to be disassembled, and are largely forgotten. All while the shiny new model takes you for a ride.  And like an old car Hark and Hazel passed on too, and were buried.  And someone I do not know got his old Model A and like them it too is forever gone.  But unlike some non-descript, mass-produced new car Hark and Hazel live on forever young and gleaming in the familial car showroom of my mind and drive strongly still like that old Model A once did.



Music Lessons with Mrs. Smith

August 16, 2015

Did you ever do something embarrassing that was remembered fondly?? I sure did. This will be in “Notes About Growing Up”.

Speaking of Les Mills’ Studios above and taking organ lessons, here is what that was about. When I was five my mom thought my sister and I should take music lessons. We took organ lessons not piano lessons for some reasons – maybe since TR had an organ at his house, one at the bank, and no piano (he restored old organs as mentioned above). Regardless we took lessons mostly from Mrs. Wesley Smith who worked at Les Mills’ Studios. Les was a bachelor who had a big house and smaller house filled with pianos and electric organ where music teachers gave lessons. It was across the street from where we would later get our braces too, so it was frequently visited place over the years.

Each week we would go for a 30 minute lesson. Mrs. Smith who was very technical would work with us on songs of course but also deeper things like chord progression and different keys. She was always a nice lady and we went to school with her lids like her son Curtis. As a technique repetition was the key, doing something over and over would load the piece of music into your mind and reflexes so you could do it at will. Well, that never worked too well with me since I also never had any natural rhythm as far as music went and I was never a good musician, even in band playing the trombone for our band director Mr. Rooney.

The repetition continued at home since we were expected to practice there too which I did not want to do, mom had to gripe at me to do my lessons on our organ. I’d rather have been reading a book, playing with my toy soldier, or floating model ships down at the creek.

But the yearly recital was the actually the worst thing about it really. You would have to learn a song and be able to play it by memory in front of the assembled parents and students one terrifying day. I could usually do it OK but day I really screwed up on my song and turned around to the audience which was silent wondering what I was about to do and simply said I was going to start over since I had not done so well the first time. I did start over and played the song without further incident. That little incident was not forgotten by many and least of all not by me.

Asking to start over taught me something. If you make a mistake admit it early and the next time you do whatever you messed up doing, do it better or right. That is another way of admitting a mistake, asking forgiveness, taking your lumps, and moving on, eh? Too many folks use Dilbertian “blamestorming” to obscure their failures blaming others for their shortfalls and I just don’t do that, I instead offer up a “plan B” to fix an issue just like I did that recital day in the basement of a bank in Denton long ago. It’s easier and people will remember that more fondly than being blamed for something.

Notes About Growing Up – The Table Of Contents

August 9, 2015

I ‘m sending Notes About Growing Up to my editor Margo Dill soon. Here is the table of contents.

Introduction 9

Part I – Valley View, Texas 11

Merry Christmas Granddad 12
The Roach Place 18
The Leach Place, Duck Creek, & The Hundred Acres 23
Working & Feeding the Cattle 29
Combining the Wheat and the Picnic Grounds 34
Turner Grocery 40
Valley View National Bank 46
Clem and Leta Bell 51
TR and “Muh” 56
Uncles, Aunts, and Cousins 65
Going To Church in Valley View 73
Dad the Athlete and Mom the Majorette 79
Spending the Night With TR After Muh Died. 83
The Houses on Lee Street 86
The Leach Place Bee Hives 92
The Dreaded Visit to Hagerman’s Wildlife Refuge 95
Couch Oil 98
Xmas and Turkey Day at Valley View 103
See You in The Funny Papers 108

Part II – Denton, Texas 110

A Bottle Rocket Fight On The Brazos 111
DCNB 116
Congress Street & Ranch Estates 120
Apollo 11 129
A Haberdasher’s Hanger 136
Uncle Hark and Aunt Hazel 139
Homemade Chinese Food 142
Models, Army Men, and Wargames Too 146
He Does Not Read Kid’s Books 152
Two Miss Americas 155
The Boats 159
Times With Mom and Dad 164
The Cloud Roaring and the Aurora 171
Working at the Rent Houses 175
New York Subway Sandwiches, Taco Inn, KFC, MacDonald’s, and Sonic 181
Troop 132 187
Our Pets 191
Stitches And Casts 197
Music Lessons with Mrs. Smith 203
Family Vacations 207
My Old Schools 214
The Big Weather Balloon And Helicopter Fleets 219

Part III – Gainesville, Texas 223

Metzler’s BBQ 224
Dances and the Ranch 228
Working in the Oil Field and the Sample Library 232
Three Tornados And Touch Football 240
Drunk Driving On Golf Karts 244
I Caught A Fish And A Cloud Came Up 249
Football Teams and Coaches 256
The Church of the Divine Fermentation 262
The Evanston War 267
Speech and Debate 274

Part IV – Back In Denton, Texas At College 278

The Frat 279
Playing the Chime in the Tower 287
Bruto’s Pizza, Taco Inn, and Captain Nemo’s 293
Drunk in the Dorm 299
Driving TR’s Grain Truck 307
Spring Break with Mom and Dad 311
Working at Derrick 313
KNTU News Casting 318

Part V – After College In Fort Worth 322

Arthur Andersen and Other Jobs 323
BBC 329
Buying the Monterrey House 333

Part VI – The Long Road 339

I-35: My Life’s Road 340

Afterward 343
Thanks To & Pictures 345
For More Information 347

Our First Date

August 1, 2015

This is from Notes To Stephanie: Days Remembered. A tale of a very wonderful first date.

As we were getting divorced, you once e-mailed me that you would always remember our first date. While I have not forgotten it either, I do not get sentimental about it. But it was a very wonderful evening, and that is what I will recount below.

I remember you came over to my house, and you rang the door bell. There you were in the pretty greenish dress that fit you so well; your legs looked great, as did your hair. We talked a little, I showed you my house, and we got in my truck and headed out for dinner.

I remember talking about various things like our life histories as we drove south to Haltom City and the Thai restaurant I had picked out. You and I liked more than one type of food, and that was one of the biggest things that first attracted me to you.

We got to the Thai place and went in, sitting towards the front of the place, which was not crowded at all. I think I had a hot green curry dish, and we had Thai beef salad as an appetizer. It was all good, and the meal hit the spot. Our conversation, of course, continued.

After that we drove downtown to Sundance Square and wandered around, we finally ended up at Billy Miner’s Saloon where I had eaten lunch years before when I worked downtown. We had some drinks and talked some more. One thing that was interesting was that a lot of people gazed at us through the window as they walked by—one guy in particular as I recall. Were they gazing at you or were they gazing at us together since we were so enthralled with each other? Who knows? They looked at us—that is for sure.

Regardless of the people looking at us, we also looked at each other throughout the evening. The night went on that way until we left to go back to my house. When we got back to my place, we got out of my truck, had a little good night kiss, and said we wanted to go out again—our arms around each other. We said goodbye, left, and I went back inside thinking about the night. It was a good first date, I thought. And my gut told me the same thing, too.

That humid summer night in July was our official beginning as a couple. I wish we had found a way to keep that interest alive and had not stopped looking into each other’s eyes, longing for the other as we did that night.

That evening was a magical time that I still see clearly in my mind as I write this now. However, in time, it will be just another memory like other things that have happened over the years. But it will be a good memory, nonetheless, when it surfaces at some future time now unknown.

Driving TR’s Grain Truck

August 1, 2015

This is one of my favorite memories from college and ties back to my childhood.

When I was pledging the frat I had an idea. Use TR’s old but still running grain truck as our float. I asked Granddad and my parents and they somewhat reluctantly agreed to let me do just that. So one Sunday we went to the Roach place and fired the old four wheeled girl up and I drove it to Denton BD the frat house (the old one – Prairie Street? Maple? – and not the newer one on Mulberry).

We decorated it with fraternity’s letters and NTSU “Mean Green” décor and were ready to go. The Brothers piled in the back and we drove to the assembly point and waited to go. We started off and ultimately went down Hickory Street, going past DCNB and the Campus theatre of my youth around the square, and west on Oak back to the end point and finally the frat house. It was a lot of fun and I of course thought about all of things we had driven by that were important to me as a kid – St. Andrews where the Scout troop had met, my old playmate Dan Herd’s house, Voertman’s, and others as you might guess. On top of all of that most of us were actually sober for obvious reasons, not a Miracle On 34Th Street but one on the streets of Denton, Texas.

And I was thankful to TR who had let me drive it. But that happy time in my life was overcast by a dark shadow of sadness. TR learned that he had terminal brain cancer. Mom would take me to see him in Baylor Hospital east of downtown Dallas each week after classes were done. At first he tried to make the best of it all by joking about things like the radiation treatment’s alignment marks on his head being Indian warrior paint and also how he tipped the nurses with cash – they were always good to him by the way. But as time went on and the pain got worse it took its toll – I remember him telling my Mom how he couldn’t stop crying. I do not know if he was merely scared as anyone would be or maybe he pondered things in his life and was facing some regrets within his soul. If there is a Heaven – I hope there is and I hope he is there – I will certainly ask him that as we stand together in the never ending pure brightness of eternity with my other departed loved ones like my Dad.

After a time he did pass, my Dad called me near sunset one evening at the frat house where I living for the summer, and simply said “Jeff, your Granddad just died”. And I shed some tears too thinking about him and his own cries.

But going back to my question to ask him above I’ll remind him about letting me drive his beat up old grain truck too and thank him for that again since it proves we are human with joy in our soul as is remembering the good things that made our life what it is or was, and who made those wonderful things happen, and not just dwelling on the bad things the trip down life’s road brings.

Drunk In The Dorm

July 26, 2015

If you attended college you will no doubt appreciate this collection of stories.

At college you will meet some interesting people, quite a few if you live in a dormitory like I did for two years. Around all of the beer and pot you can witness or experience some interesting things. And this Note is about a couple I saw.

When I was a sophomore my high school friends Mike and Donald were my suite mates on the fourth floor of Kerr Hall. Most of the guys there were your average Joes but one dude from Virginia stood out from the crowd. Why? Because he talked about how to torture people and how much he hated his Dad and what he would do to ruin him.

Some examples you ask? One night when we were eating dinner in the cafeteria he spoke about slitting the eyeballs of immobilized people and then dripping alcohol on them. And there were others too, and they did much to curb some people’s appetites. His boundless hatred for his Dad caused him to contemplate waging biological warfare on him by culturing wheat rust and spraying it on his father’s wheat fields with a crop duster. Not a happy camper, eh?

Contrasted with this dark streak was his love for his girlfriend Michelle who was back in Virginia but mailed him cookies and letters which he would show us. The yin and yang of his persona really made us wonder what was going on in head. But one night we got a pretty good answer when he learned his beloved Michelle was regularly screwing her boss back home.

One Saturday night, the day he learned this, we were all actually in the dorm for the weekend. The beer was flowing and we tried to treat our despondent friend’s sadness by adding Everclear to his beer. He lay on his bed with his dorm room door open staring at the ceiling in what seemed to be drunken silence. Then in an instant the calm stopped and the storm raged. His room was across form mine and he leapt up screaming like a crazed banshee and slammed his door so hard some of the molding on the outside came flying off onto the beer and puke, and God only knows what else, stained carpet of the hall.

Knowing his penchant for talking about torture we all thought he would next act out his fantasies on us in some horrible way. So everyone else’s dorm room doors quickly shut and were locked. You could hear the sounds of that spreading down the two halls away from his room – a frightened rhythm of the door slamming and the lock clicking.

And then there was silence even as we called each other on our dorm phones to describe what we had just seen. And then later we came out and his door was still shut. But then he out and everyone fled but he calmly and silently went down the stairs and through the hall window we saw him go across Eagle Drive to Taco Inn and return with some food. The doors shut and locked again upon his arrival.

After that he became pretty quiet and he withdrew from the university and returned to Virginia never to be seen or heard from again. But in his absence we still recalled this story and his torture techniques to sometimes unbelieving audiences. But we knew what we had seen and heard.

And then there was the new guy from New Jersey. This student was a very good guy but we decided to “initiate” him into a little group by pulling a prank that backfired on us without a doubt.

What we did was put on suits and sunglasses and pretended to be Federal drug agents. Mike and Donald and I were the agents of course and we got the others near his dorm room involved like his two suitemates Rick and CJ. As an aside Rick had a pet white lab rat who he kept in his dorm room which calmly rode on his shoulder while he strolled around the dorm’s halls. The guy from New Jersey did not know me and my two friends so we knocked on his dorm room door and Mike pulled out a document that he described as a search warrant but was actually the court subpoena from the horrific Halloween incident performed against Mrs. Evanston, and I told him he was under arrest for drug trafficking. We hauled him and his suitemate co-conspirators down to the first floor and frisked them in front of the many assembled students who looked on in surprise and shock. One dude said we couldn’t do that, I replied he would be next if he didn’t shut up but what happened later proved that the experience from high school speech and drama had been effective.

When we got outside the guy from New Jersey lost it screaming he was innocent and didn’t do drugs at all. “I didn’t do it man, I didn’t it man” he repeated in stark terror and then passed out on the grass near the parking lot where we had one of our cars waiting – not to take him to some further place and a new act of mayhem but to tell him it was a joke, welcome him, and buy him a case of beer thus making him officially one of the trusted members of the “Kerr Fourth Floor Lounge” (KFFL) as we called ourselves. We wanted to use “First United Church Of Keg” in dorm intramural play but the acronym that moniker formed was of course not allowed so KFFL was born.

At that point we all thought “oh shit he’s dead and we were headed to jail and our parents would get sued too”. But he awoke and we hauled him to the student health center where we learned he had his gall bladder removed a week before. Sheesh, the poor guy had been under great bodily stress and we were SO convincing we tipped him over so to speak.

But in the end we told him what we had been going to do and he forgave us and we really were all friends after that. But he got us back by constantly joking about his sister marrying into a Mafia family and what they would do to us in return for our crimes against him that day. So when you pull a prank don’t forget that one bad turn might begat another…..

Arthur Andersen and Other Jobs

July 19, 2015

A tale of my first two post-college jobs. This will be in “Notes About Growing Up”.

After getting out of graduate school in 1983 my first “real job” was working for the now defunct Arthur Andersen & Company accounting and consulting firm. Yes, “Uncle Arthur” Of “Enronish” fame. I was not an auditor but was in the tax division preparing Federal and State returns, plus doing research on tax issues. I worked there for two years even though I hated the place after being there two weeks.

I actually started in the Dallas office but was sent to Fort Worth to work on a big oil and gas client since I had background in that and lived in Tarrant County too. I was glad to go due to the back-stabbing snobbery the “Big D” office was filled with practiced by the ladder-climbing inhuman corporate clones and seeing some obvious corruption too.
Corruption you say? At AA? Yep. In one Enron Moment I once heard a consulting partner tell an audit partner “If you put that in the audit report we’ll lose the consulting business”. ‘Nuff said about that obvious departure from ethics and professional standards, eh?

AA’s Fort Worth office was much calmer than its “neighbor to the east” (AA = Arthur Andersen) not Alcoholics Anonymous although some thought they were the same due to the stress induced boozing that was common). It was much smaller and the very nature of Fort Worth’s more relaxed, honest, and traditional culture made its presence known. But it was still AA – Uncle Arthur owned 24 hours of your day and what he didn’t need he let you have. One example of that you ask? In one two week period of tax season I had 120 overtime hours. That’s overtime not regular or total hours. In the end such things, the abuse of one terribly egregious assh*le tax manager, and my lack of talent for work papers & proper tick-mark usage meant I had enough and resigned. And then I went to work in IT for that big oil and gas client mentioned above, which shows Uncle Arthur did provide some side benefits. And it gave me a clear image of some of the bad things about our corporate culture and clarified what I wouldn’t endure for my paycheck. That is a choice everyone in the workforce must make and will define what your life will become over time – “Choose the form of the destroyer” it was said in the movie “Ghostbusters”. But it is still a choice…..

To be fair I will say AA was not totally cruel and inhumane since I had no trouble travelling to the hospital when my son Roger was born (see my third book) which I did every day since he was in the NICU after being born there months early. Plus they had wonderful health insurance as I saw when I saw my son’s $100K hospital bill and only had to pay $2K. “En extremis” they too became human if only for a short while until the need for greater billing & utilization reared its ugly head again. But that’s business and they aren’t charities with bottomless coffers like some deluded people in our culture wish they were – “AA means low pay” we used to say satirically reflecting the need to control costs so the partners cold get their draws.

Working at the oil company mentioned above was OK until oil prices started to drop more and I got laid off with some other folks. That company was filled with good folks who mostly and fortunately had not been in public accounting or consulting. But there were some “unique” personalities too. In no particular order there was CFO who collected expensive porcelain baby dolls (he was not a bad guy I must say but his hobby was a bit different), the controller who said he had to drink a six pack nightly due to the stress. He was not well liked but worked liked a proverbial slave for the overlords, thus his continued employment. And the Vice President who asked “can’t you just push a button and get this report out”? My reply? Yes, after 200 hours of custom programming and data conversions. He was non-plussed by my honesty. I do not think he ever worked at AA but he probably would have fitted in there given how he responded to my answer. And finally the pretty receptionist, who was always nice to me, who joked about becoming an “intrepreneur”. INtrepeneur versus ENtrpeneur you ask? IN as working as a high class call-girl, I think you understand the term now, eh? I don’t think she ever made that career change, she WAS joking remember, but it would have been tempting to “shop” with her after I got divorced from the kid’s mom. I sometimes wonder what became of her so perhaps I should fire up Google one day to find her.

Oh well, life does go on and every human group is a sapient zoo with numerous specimens in its figurative cages for us to observe and hopefully learn from. After departing oil company I got unemployment, earned my real estate broker’s license which I never really used, and obtained a job at a small software house in Dallas which was another mostly miserable Dallas company run by a group a verbally abusive workaholic assholes except for one good man, God Bless his probably still tortured soul, who his pathetic partners forced out one day in favor of my direct boss. But that’s another story for another book. Or maybe it’s the same old job story……