This is Virginia Reger, an amazing and wonderful 89 year old woman who asked me to write her biography. Boxes and boxes of photos and news articles, numerous scrapbooks dating back to the 1930's, and many hours of talking have culminated in me actually putting it together. The exciting news is that we are submitting it to the Texas Tech Press today (unfinished, though I continue to work) for consideration. They published a fantastic biography for a man Virginia knows well, Dean Smith, who was an Olympic track star, rodeo competitor, and amazing stuntman in Hollywood. We hope Virginia's biography will be accepted and we can work with that great institution to create wonderful book about her life. E
Writing Exercise I Remember
I remember Village Burger in Duncanville, TX on Oriole Street. Homemade burgers cooked over a charcoal fire. We didn’t get food from there much, but the smoke billowed from the small white building daily. It was beside a BBQ place where we would get pounds of brisket when company was coming. It was a splurge, but one had to put up a good front for company. Funny, I don’t remember the actual name of that place, but do remember the Village Burger. Maybe their sign wasn’t impressive. Or, I’ve driven through Glen Rose ten thousand times and Hammonds BBQ is emblazoned on my mind. Back to the BBQ, that trip into Duncanville for brisket was likely before the Baker twins started keeping their FFA project steers in our back two acres. For the rest of his days, my father compared every cut of meat he had to the quality of Abner. Ah, Abner, you were one great sirloin steak.
I remember how my ribs hurt after the horse accident. I had an itch to have a paint horse, and our neighbor sold me one. It wasn’t Chief’s fault. I like to blame it on the neighbor, but it was my weakness not telling him “We are NOT going to jump over that puddle.” He jumped all right. I flew onto his neck and tumbled down to the ground. Knocked the breath out of me and probably cracked a rib. It still hurts occasionally. Now Glenn has cracked a rib by falling against something and I send him to a chiropractor for the first time ever because I know and trust the Doc’s wife. Could be it follows if the spouse is okay, you’ll like the other spouse. But that’s not always the case. Luckily this one worked out. Ribs are very vulnerable bones.
I remember walking from the dinner table to the fridge all through my childhood, to get something. I would lean on the little wall, open the fridge door, and completely forget why I was there. Usually it was for the ketchup, so I’d get that. Back at the table, the original need would appear in my mind. Most times, having the ketchup bottle in my hand worked, but often another trip to the fridge was needed for mustard or Worchester Sauce or margerine. Now my belief is that the idea falls out of your head and stays back where you were. If you backtrack, take in the sensory cues, the idea will pop back into that blank place in your head.
I remember my Aunt Della. She had no children and widowed, and I was the only niece she didn’t see often or wasn’t already grown. She taught me to play marbles on her wool, Persian type rug. It was red and beige with black accents in a swirly pattern. We would set up the marbles in one circle and shoot them at marbles in another circle. We sat on our knees until they aches and my knuckle was raw and slightly bleeding. She made lemonade. Her house smelled different than other houses. The lack of children or animals or something. But she had a grace I admired, even wearing the horn-rimmed glasses which were the fashion of the day. Aunt Della was thin, and she moved like one who used to love to dance or maybe she still did there on her ornate woolen rug.
I remember the color red. It was my mom’s favorite. In fact, Carol and I made a special trip to Arlington after her death to buy a pretty red dress in which to bury her. We knew she’d like that, but would have said it was unnecessary. She always wanted to make things one could buy more easily. But she was gone and her body was done. Then the makeup person at the funeral home put too much blush or the lighting had too much pink and she glowed almost like neon red, contrasting against the white satin lining in the coffin. Personally, I find the custom of the “viewing” somewhat macabre. People stand around, talking and laughing while the deceased lies there unaware. It is for the survivors, the family to receive the sympathy they need to heal, but it really isn’t necessary to have an open casket with one’s deceased mother in the background. But at least she glowed.
Standing with a dozen other singers ranging in age from fifteen to seventy, we performed the patriotic songs prepared for the Veteran’s Day theme of the club meeting. The audience consisted of about 30 women and one man, the Mayor of our city. Smiles were everywhere, as we sang “This is My Country,” “Giant,” and the silly song about how you can always tell a Texan from the rest, he’s got no buttons on his vest from sticking out his chest and shouting I hail from Texas!
But when we began singing the service hymns, ladies sang along and stood during their favorite song with tears in their eyes. “The Caisson Song” for the Army, went right into “Anchors Away” for the Navy. We soared with “The Air Force Song,” and, starting softly and ending with a roar, the "Marine’s Hymn."
What I saw was the love they had not only for the husbands, sons and friends who served in the armed forces, but for all servicemen who sacrificed for our country. That love came to the surface and trickled down their faces in tears. I could feel their pride, their sorrow, their love. It was a connection unlike any I had ever felt while singing.
We then went into a resounding version of “God of our Fathers” and when we began singing “The Pledge of Allegiance” one by one, everyone came to their feet. Some with hands over their hearts, tears streaming down their cheeks and looking out the windows to the sky. I felt my own tears well up, but kept on singing through to the last line: “…liberty and justice for all.”
What a unique and marvelous moment. My father, the Air Corps Vet and lifelong singer likely knew that feeling. I felt his hand on my shoulder telling me, “Well done.”
Often nightmares disturb my sleep. In this example, myself, my husband Glenn, and one other person were driving through San Antonio, TX. So many buildings lined the freeway it was hard to see when we reached the downtown section. Pulling off in search of a motel, we stopped on a dark street and walked into a place which seemed to be a game room. But only skee-ball games were being played. It was odd, uncomfortable, and not the motel so we walked outside. A black man on a bicycle rode up to us, stopped and approached Glenn. He took out a switchblade and clicked it open with a demand for money. Glenn pulled out a large knife, like those men carry in sheathes at their sides, and stabbed the guy in the belly.
Removing the knife, my husband turned and ran away. The other person disappeared. To my horror, the stabbed man staggered toward me, eyes rolling into the back of his head, clutching his stomach, with an expression of pain and disbelief on his face. He fell forward and landed at my feet face down in the grass. In panic, I looked around, seeing Glenn running in the distance. Why was he running? His actions were obviously in self-defense. I turned to chase after him, but the man on the ground moaned. Torn between escaping the scene and staying with what I believed was a dying man-a stranger-a criminal, I stood where I was looking back and forth with my eyes at last locked on the dying man.
I started to kneel beside the prostrate figure and then awoke from the nightmare. Wondering why such images would appear in my dreams, I thought of someone saying it was a test. Images of the man rising to his feet flashed through my mind. Strangely, the formerly injured man was smiling. Glenn returned with the knife unblemished. He told me my humanity and empathy was strong. He was proud that I didn’t run away, fearful of the consequences of the situation. I faced the issue and stood still.
Through this analysis, in reality, I semi-consciously did escape the situation. Justifying this line of thought further, Glenn would never run and leave me alone like that. He wouldn’t stab an attacker, he would shoot him. We wouldn’t put ourselves in that position in the first place. But if I was to be thrust into something like that, I hope my deep sense of right and wrong, as well as my compassion for others will lead me to do the right thing. Truth is, one never really knows what one will do until actually faced with the difficult issue. We just hope our inner selves will govern our outward actions and compel us to do the right thing.
Why must they play sad music at Taco Bell? What's wrong with some upbeat stuff to go with the hot sauce? I guess sadness is the emotion most people can relate to. It's much more difficult to do something which makes the masses smile.
The little things throughout the day should add up and make one feel good. There may be a shot or burst, but those moments when a friend’s eyes light up at the sight of you. The touch of your love on skin or soul is comforting and good. Or a phrase spoken or an unexpected pleasantry can help make the day go well.
The fact those who have much are often more unhappy then those without enforces the idea relationships are the most important and rewarding thing a person can have. We often feel alone and thus seek God or some type of satisfaction. We must remember we are not alone, our loves, our relationships, and even our own selves can keep us company.
Therefore, it is quite all right to talk to oneself. That is journaling or free writing. At least you always have yourself to talk to. Just pick up a pen and paper or sit at a computer and put words on a page. Often some wisdom will flow out…something of interest or even a burden released. Dang, we deep thinkers are a strange lot.
Footnote: After writing this in the Taco Bell, a somewhat strange man sat next to me, indeed too close. I readied myself to leave, but noticed he sat very still with eyes closed. He had been huffing and puffing as if out of breath and was squeezed into the booth with belly lapped over the table. Sneaking a look, I glanced at him and decided to be still, as if I were to exit my side of the booth, my butt would be in his face. Directly he opened his eyes and sighed. I decided he had been praying. Glad I hadn’t interrupted, I spoke. “Excuse me, I need to slide out of here.” He answered something I didn’t catch and I slid out. Then he spoke aloud. “You have a nice day, now,” he said with a smile. I replied, “I’m workin’ on it!” He laughed. That was well after my above comment about “an unexpected pleasantry.” What might have been an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation became a bright spot in my day.
We learn something new every day, don’t we? The love of words came to me naturally through my father and his fascination with language. He was extremely well spoken and seemed highly educated despite his humble school days in rural Missouri after World War One. One study of mine is colloquialisms, sometimes referred to as “idioms” or simply “old sayings.”
Recently, I attended a concert performance featuring a woman playing a pipe organ. Several small handles were on the cabinet on either side of the music holder. Like knobs they were. She would push one in and pull another out for one song, then push and pull to get different sounds from the organ for another. She was quite well trained and all four of her extremities were doing different things at the same time.
Once she pulled out every knob in sight. I leaned to my friend, the department head of the Fine Arts Department, mind you, and said, “I guess that’s pulling out all the stops!” She replied, “Very good!” The next day some Internet research led me to this entry from the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary:
pull out all the stops
to do everything you can to make something successful
Usage notes: The stops are handles on an organ (= a large instrument used in churches), which you pull out when you want to play as loudly as possible.
How about that? I was right! Sure enough, the sound from the organ was very loud and majestic. Having heard this “saying” all my life and knowing it meant something to the effect of “holding nothing back” (which is itself likely an idiom) or “Giving it your all,” I had no idea it referred to the knobs on a pipe organ. Who knew? As I said, you learn something new every day.
Newton’s Third Law states “every action has an equal and opposite reaction.” It occurs to me this may be true with emotions and thoughts, as well. I spend much of my day smiling, being positive, grateful, generous and other “good” actions. I do not watch drama, horror, or bad reality shows. People are generally welcoming and glad to see me. Yet something odd happens in my subconscious.
For several months I have been haunted, disturbed, and otherwise troubled by nightmares. It just isn’t fair. Why should my mind release such negative and disturbing images into a bad dream? Where do the story lines which cause distress originate? Is it because I strive to be good and positive my subconscious reacts in an opposite direction and creates something to make me feel bad?
There may be some psychological reason for this buried in the night a tornado-like wind burst my bedroom window when I was eight years old. Or the fact I felt lonely and an ugly duckling as a child. Or that my heart was broken in to tiny pieces at age twenty-two. But everyone has unpleasant memories. That’s no explanation for my very memorable nightmares.
Come to think of it, bad dreams haunted my childhood. Someone would be chasing me around our house and I would just barely get inside before they caught me. This was a recurring dream. The more common dream as an adult I have experienced is to be somewhere, and not know how to get where I need to be. Often the location is a classroom or locker, and I just can’t find it and will fail the course. Or I exit a building and am on a different street, far from my original location, confused and unable to find my way back.
Many people I encounter say they do not remember much of their dreams. This happens to me occasionally. But more often, when I awaken the dream is foremost in my mind. Perhaps the phenomenon is akin to my not being able to sleep with a radio or television playing. I cannot block it out. Even while watching TV, my husband often ignores the commercials. They bug the peediddle out of me. I notice things he does not see. My attention to these details causes me to become agitated. Thankfully he is willing to hit the mute button during advertisements. Often during programs I don’t care for I just leave the room, unable to tolerate the racket.
My mom would have said, “Shake it off. Don’t let it bother you.” This morning my husband said, “Smile, forget about it.” Sometime I wonder if pushing aside these negative emotions causes them to fester and grow into something worse. Perhaps if I faced them, felt them, and recognized them as representing something which needs to be resolved, the equal and opposite reaction would be for the resolution to be found. Might be worth a shot providing the resolutions are not even more disturbing to my subconscious than the problems.
After attending a memorial for a man I did not know, the feeling of wishing I had known him came over me. By all appearances, he was a professor who brought out the best in both his students and colleagues. With wit and deep thinking, he made a large mark upon his world. I think we would have gotten along just great. But cancer took him away; took him from his sweet wife, a friend of mine. That’s why I was there, for her. But through the spoken memories of others, I came to understand who he was, and is.
When my father passed away, his impact on people became very clear. Many people of varied ages spoke of how he influenced their lives. This is very comforting to me, knowing my father’s life was meaningful. After the memorial for the professor, I stopped at a store to get a Coke and Almond Joy. Not a convenience store, nor WalMart. For some reason I pulled into Staples. After wandering around aimlessly, I found a small but thick notebook for only one dollar. Picking it up, I drifted to the writing utensil section. Just looking for something, I wasn’t sure what. Then something caught my eye. A few weeks ago, I shared a table with another author and used his Space Pen. It felt amazing and wrote beautifully. A bit on the pricey side, but I took it from the peg and put it with my one dollar notebook.
At the register, the young man at the cashier stand thanked me for getting him some candy, as a joke. I grabbed the Almond Joy and said, sorry that’s for me, and explained where I had been. He didn’t know Dr. Guthrie, but when I explained how many people loved him and respected him, and looked forward to interacting with him, he said: “Isn’t that what it’s all about? If you can do that, you’ve made it.” Yes, I answered, that is true. My dad made it, Chris Guthrie made it, and one could believe, down deep, they knew it.
Earlier in the week, my young friend Shelby was asked to read a poem at a funeral where her father was to be the minister. The poem was the winner of “The Old South Prize” in the Poetry Society of Texas in 1959-when I was two. The deceased was Marion Johnson McDaniel. He was the Alternate Poet-Laureate of Texas in 1973. He wrote over 4000 poems in his lifetime, taught school and without a doubt impacted many people’s lives. Yet, even after his death, he touched my life. Shelby was moved by the poem and she knew it would mean something to me. So, I stilled myself and read it. Afterward, sitting at my desk with closed eyes, I felt a peace, perhaps a connection with the deceased poet. He was born the same year as my mother. He was in the Civil Conservation Corp and joined the Army Air Corp just as did my father. There was a connection. Mr. McDaniel’s words swirled around me and his spirit appreciated my understanding. It felt good, like an embrace from a loved one.
During the memorial for Dr. Guthrie, someone said his philosophy included a statement something like, “It’s not what you have it’s the love you give.” It is through the passion we have for something which can help people, and the giving of that something with love is how we can “make it.” I can only hope that my love for my friends, colleagues, people whom are known and those not yet met is received and accepted. Whether it is through writing, a smile, a laugh, or some small gesture, my love should impact my world. At least that is my goal.
While writing a book based on my time at college, an attempt to contact everyone who would become a character in the story was made. My friend Nanci, Nan i, as we called her after the iron-on “C” fell off her Superman Tshirt emblazoned with her name, figured prominently in my memories. I was delighted when she sent me an email. However, that moment was bittersweet, as the reading of her words revealed this wonderful person had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.
After a few weeks, while taking a break from the chemotherapy and allowing her hair to grow, she agreed to meet with a few of us old college buddies. Before long we were corresponding often. She attended the “Ridin’ Around” book launch as an honored guest. A few weeks later we decided to take a day trip and were having the time of our lives.
While riding along in my midlife crisis Camaro z28 with this dear college friend, we talked and joked and laughed despite having no communication for the previous twenty-five years. She could make me laugh like no other person on earth. Oh, for a transcript of all the quips and jokes we made that day in the car! It was spontaneous, natural, and really funny. However, no recording was necessary for one thing she said. It will forever be a meaningful moment in my memory. Motoring down the highway Nanci turned to me and stated:
“Elaine, I didn’t know if we’d have anything to talk about because I’m not the same person I was back when we were in college. But, you know, I found out, I AM the same person!”
Tears came to my eyes and if I hadn’t been driving, I would have hugged her. Not too firmly though-the cancer had ravaged her body to the point of fragility. We took full advantage of the next few months, until that terrible disease took her spirit from us. Even the last time we met, a few days before her death, we laughed. Well, we were trying not to cry.
So many years can pass by unnoticed and the layers of life seem to separate us not only from our friends, but from our true selves. This memory gives me the courage to throw off those layers and reach out to the people I love no matter how long we have been apart. Because that love, though buried, is probably still there and can thrive if you’ll just let it out. And, also, you may be older, fatter, grayer or even a bit wiser, but deep down inside, you’re still you.
Recently, some work on the big air conditioning units was performed behind brick walls near the building where I go to work. Cranes blocked the driveway and parking spaces and various other inconveniences occurred. But the work was completed. The result cannot be seen, but there is a new phenomenon. A hum, it is, at a certain pitch and quality to remind one of something specific.
Hummmmmmmmmmmm it goes constantly, as I walk by. Then it hit me. It was the first haunting note in the Steve Miller Band song, “Jet Airliner!” The air conditioning was kicking off the classic rock song. So, of course, I had to continue and break into the song: “Leavin’ home out on the road…thinkin’ about my home…big ol jet air liner, don’t carry me too far away…”
This feeling did not go away, nor did the song, so I found it on youtube to listen. A quick pass through FaceBook found my high school and great musician friend Keith Reynolds to be logged in. Sending him a quick message about listening to the classic rock and needing to tell someone about the weird phenomenon, we got the inspiration to rhyme, and traded writing verses off the proverbial cuff:
Elaine: Thanks go to youtube, they got the greatest hits,
Whether you like that weirdo Ice Cube, or even a Ballroom Blitz.
Keith: Steve Miller was the sound I liked, no matter how hard I tried,
The sounds just kept flowin' by, takin' me to way up to the skies.
Elaine: When the ac unit started hummin,
I found myself a drummin,
Fought the urge to break into “Jet Airliner,”
People would a thunk I'd hit the Shiner.
Keith: Shiner is a beer, tequila puts you into gear,
Everclear just makes you queer,
And bourbon if mixed with all three will bring you where????
I certainly don't know....
Elaine: And I don't really wanna know,
Just wanna go out to the show.
The chicken's finger lickin',
Let's just dance, let’s GO GO GO!
(Note the song playing during the last verse, “Dance, Dance, Dance,” begins “My grandpa, he’s ninety-five, and he keeps on dancin’, he’s still alive.” So grandpa made an appearance…)
Ain’t it great when the music touches your soul, lightens your mood, brightens your day, and inspires you to be completely goofy? Most times people don’t see me be goofy, but it does happen… here’s a link to the song on youtube and the hummmmmmmmm… Jet Airliner