It spoke to me of making change. Big Ones. As in completing my debut novel and overhauling my website.
Wait a minute!
I cannot finish a 100,000-word manuscript, maintain an author website, AND blog as both a writer and a RoadBroad.
SuperWoman, I’m not.
Thus, I pen my final post on a site that’s taught me so much. Since May 23, 2018, I’ve blogged 116 times and taken 348 photos. At an average 500 words per post, that’s 58,000+ blog words written in two years and seven months.
In author-speak: that’s halfway to a novel!
It’s time for me to complete my life purpose: writing stories that help people heal.
First comes the novel, Christmas Card. Its tagline? The Group goes On the Road and meets Rain Man. Many other stories will follow.
As I enter Emeritus status with RoadBroads, Ellen will lead with new energy which is invigorating for any creative venture. She’s faithful to the blog and an entertaining writer. Excitement awaits!
Thank you, all, for your devoted reading of my writing here. Your support offered candles through days both dark and light. I am beyond grateful.
I hope you’ll maintain your support of RoadBroads, and join me later in January at www.melanieormand.com.
I met DH on a road trip near my hometown 36 years ago.
That meeting, where I heard Carole King singing I Feel the Earth Move in my ear, led to my accepting a Houston job four months later.
I worked at the local all-news station. Chuck led the newsroom at the cross-town country music station.
Competitors, we began dating.
Our first road trip took us to Galveston’s Flagship Hotel.
Our romance made Houston’s newspaper gossip columns. The bosses, gratefully, didn’t mind our courtship.
Thirty one years ago this week, we married and began traveling. I retired from radio, as DH later did. We began a crisis communications business that took us around the globe.
We overnighted in all 50 states plus 24 foreign countries and three continents. Those trips came many modes. On land, in air, and over water, here’s the (partial) exotic list:
LAND: camel (Australia), funicular (Austria), Ice Explorer (Canada), dog sled (Alaska), horse-drawn carriage (New York), Segway (Colorado), pedicab (Illinois), moped (Bahamas), cable car (San Francisco), ice skating (Houston)
AIR: canoe (New Zealand), international flight (Italy), prop jet (Denali), helicopter (Florida), hot air balloon (New Mexico)
WATER: cruise ship (Mexico), glass-bottomed boat (Florida), catamaran (St. Thomas), tubing (Wyoming), ferry (Washington), riverboat (Louisiana),
But we haven’t traveled via these modes:
Parasail, parachute, zipline, and any activity that might break a bone or blow a body gasket
Aging brings wisdom and we’ve both got hearts, brains, and other body parts to protect these days.
Other wisdom I’ve gained with the years is that both marriage and travel involve journeys of a type. If you can open yourself fully to the possibilities of each, you’ll eventually experience the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, and more. It’s all Life.
For instance, this month for me marks not only a sweet anniversary but also what I call the beginning of my Lost Decade. Eleven family funerals and 20 hospitalizations/surgeries. One day, I’ll tell that tale, an heartbreaking/heart-expanding journey through (seemingly) unending disease, death; loss, grief.
But this week, I focus on a happy day and blessed memories. That’s a choice, something that awaits each of us.
Through it all, I also try to remember to lighten up.
DH and I keep this plaque in our house, reminding us that when life gets intense, laughter lightens the load.
On some days, it’s the laughing that gets us through.
That’s as true in marriage as it is Every Single Day.
We’d traveled into north Texas when the green mileage marker popped up.
The road trip that day promised a long journey, another seven hours. I turned to DH and teased, “You game?” He smiled, nodded.
One left turn and eight miles later, we arrived at our new destination.
We eyeballed the terrain. Nothing: no cars, no animals, no buildings, no people.
To visitors, such a sight spooks.
To a native, it’s heaven, a reminder of similar landscapes, e.g., the Texas Panhandle where I grew up.
It saddens me that so many fail to see the beauty of these flatlands. Here, you can slow down and catch your breath. Tech devices don’t work well. Distraction dissolves.
What follows? A thanks offering for simplicity and clarity, for clean, pure lines where earth meets sky meets river. Hard to see it but there is water flowing in the Red River here:
Look up, in the center of the blue sky, can you see the surprise?
The tiny circle of the moon snagged me, too. How many times have I missed such clear vision?
The moon hovering sweetens the moment. Overwhelm descends. Earth’s only natural satellitetransmutes a spontaneous side trip into holy encounter. Indeed.
Wikipedia informs that we’re viewing what’s technically called the Red River of the South. One of the few American state borders so created, the waterway meanders across/around/through four states, feeding eventually into the mighty Mississippi.
We sigh, make a u‑turn, and head back toward home.
Texas awaits. So does a second gasp:
How did we miss this house? Abandoned or not, it’s the only structure around.
This sight at this moment? A two-fer?
We both do more than pause. We pull over and stop, both silent in a second holy encounter. I wonder: doesthis bustling city girl need more slow-down encounters like these? Is this pandemic self-care or something bigger?
I swallow and look up.
Past the house, the land flattens to familiar terrain. Beyond the sign of my home state, I spot Home.
Over there. Around that curve. After a looong afternoon drive. Oddly grateful there’s no eerie ahead, I comprehend. Now I can breathe and drive. Easy.
The straight lines of the Texas state marker offer comfort. I know this place. It’s where I belong, for now.
The tight green rectangle screams precision. The two poles beneath radiate strength. Both offer comfort, valued in these times.
Translating, I understand these as guideposts, each offering a pathway to home. All roads do, but today’s messengers brought intensity in different form: two states, multiple shapes (circles, lines, borders), varying forms (earth, water, sky), and changing landscapes (flat versus rolling terrain).
Then I connect. These are messages from my recent existence.
I take the sights and their messages in hand — from this latest little diversion — and put my foot on the gas, heading south to home.
Celebrating Mexico and Catholicism is not my usual modus operandi. Neither was losing a beloved sister suddenly.
In the 13 months since Mimi died, I’ve accepted there’s hole in my heart that will never heal. But there’s a peace offering in the ongoing celebration of Dia de Las Muertas, or Day of the Dead.
Mexico’s biggest festival ends today, November 2nd, on what the country calls All Soul’s Day, a time to honor the newly, and long, departed.
Thus I remember my sister Mimi today and recent rituals to honor her life’s impact and meaning in our lives.
On her birth day, we placed her ashes inside our home church’s columbarium. Mimi’s steel urn now hugs our mother’s brass one, placed there six years ago. All that separates the pair is a picture, seen below (far right).
This hand-carved columbarium holds cremated remains in perpetuity at our childhood church, St. Matthew’s Episcopal. The small spaces in the wall are called niches that hold urns of ashes.
Unlike a cemetery, a columbarium is not built into the ground but rather inside a church wall or a similar structure. It’s also not a mausoleum, a building built for caskets, either buried or entombed.
As important: interment is burial in the ground; inurnment is when cremated ashes are placed in an urn followed by final location in a niche.
I didn’t want this education, either.
In the church chapel, we gifted flowers overflowing with symbolism.
The single red rose honored our sister. Yellow flowers on the right recognized our parents and grandmother (our father and his mother rest in the niche’s back row). The varied floral spray on the left celebrates living family members.
On the one year anniversary of Mimi’s passing, my other sister and I remembered the eldest with a Jewish Yahrzeit observation. This annual rite commemorates a loved one’s death with rituals celebrated by Jewish faithful since the 14th century.
This observance was Merrilynn’s idea, mirroring a ritual she conducts after her own experiences of heartbreaking loss.
Together, we lit three white candles, read Yahrzeit meditations, prayed together, and said blessings to our departed sister. We even offered ring-topped cupcakes. Mimi smiled.
Now today, I’m honoring loss and grief again. Writing can be ritual, too.
And I finally understand. Without knowing it, I’ve been practicing Dias de Las Muertas since August. Three times.
Ancient archetypes awaken again.
The human condition: we’re not different from each other, are we?
Important perspective to remember with this thing we’ve got happening in America tomorrow.
So who are you remembering on this All Soul’s Day?
NOTE: This post concludes a four-part blog about a recent trip to the town where I was born: Pampa, Texas.
Roadway sights defined the long drive to my hometown. I should’ve paid more attention as clues announced themselves. It started with a first omen one hour in.
We made the trip to return my eldest sister to our mother’s side at our hometown church. The ironic presence of the smoke — in effect, color, and timing — screamed.
Nine hours later, we spied the little green sign we’d anticipated all day.
Its sighting followed miles of non-stops through big cities, small towns, and farming villages. Scattered among the people, buildings, and roadways were landscapes ranging from summer green to drought yellow.
Surrounding the city limits sign, two elements stood out:
A yellow-gold ring midway down the pole linked the green rectangle at its top, an unique marriage of city marker to high school colors of green and gold.
Cloudy skies engulfed the entire sign. I gulped, remembering why I had come back home.
My mind began to race. It linked this moment to the morning’s roadway fire.
Aha! Is this another omen or has my mind shifted into overdrive?
Driving toward our hotel, my mood shifted to near-mania. Storefronts I recognized. Bricked streets of downtown. High school hangouts. Childhood church.
Then, as I drove down the main street, the quick stop stores began to pop up like little Whack-a-Moles. They each demanded attention, their names worth the price and tears of driving to Pampa.
Only one of these stores existed during my childhood. I remember Toot ‘n Totum as Toot ‘n Totem. But why did today’s “u” in Totum replace yesterday’s “e” in Totem? No idea, but I remember the chain’s ad campaigns : you toot your horn; we’ll tote out to you.
Amazing what the mind remembers after a half-century!
The next day, we breakfasted at another first.
United Supermarket offers what I dubbed the food quadrifecta (and yes, I made up that latter word: in my dictionary, it means “four of something”).
In one building, United offers a stand-alone of these four: grocery store, delicatessen, dine-in restaurant, and a full-service Starbuck’s.
A lifetime traveling the globe and never has this Houstonian seen a combination quite like this.
Departing this place of quick stops and quadrifectas, I realized there’s something to learn in the laughter and the sadness discovered this trip.
It’s called the Circle of Life, when home morphs into hometown.
NOTE: Part 3 of a 4‑part post about returning to my Pampa, Texas hometown.
I smiled as I turned onto downtown Cuyler Street, Pampa’s first paved road.
Red bricks, laid last century by “Indian Jim,” extended south as far as my eyes could see. Perfectly aligned rows and rectangles dissolved into muddy crimson, eventually to meet railroad tracks on the far end of the street.
One thing about my hometown had not changed.
Something across the street had.
“Resound” headlined the former First National Bank building.
How can a hometown survive without a ‘national bank’?
Resound offers wireless internet. Good news for a rural town.
WiFi takes over The Bank?
I remember opening my first bank account here with my father talking in the car about how the building was built during the Great Depression — “jobs for too many unemployed men.”
I whisper now, “At least it’s been repurposed for good,” and drive away.
Next, it’s to the hospital where I survived double pneumonia.
Worley Hospital looked in bad shape the last time I saw it. No time to stop then. It was Mother’s day.
Years before, owners had abandoned Worley Hospital. A newer hospital on the town’s north side drew more doctors and patients.
I cringe at the building’s extreme deterioration. Then my eyes, unconsciously, flick upwards. To the window I can never forget.
For two mostly-black weeks at age five, I lived in that circled room. Life-threatening fever seizures led to pain-filled treatments. But the day before dismissal, Mother lifted me up to that window. I watched traffic on the street below and giggled. I looked over at her and didn’t understand why her eyes were wet.
Ah, a little girl’s scary experience transformed into a sweet memory.
A half century later, scary returned. Thank you, A&E Network.
The film crew profiled Worley Hospital and its new owners, youngsters who dreamed of a B&B. They began renovating. Hauntings began. “Ghost Hunters” came to visit.
So much stuns in this TV clip:
Ghostly entities sidling up walls
Green bars recording voice echoes
Ghastly state of hospital interior
A B&B? In this building?
Outside Worley, I don’t know whether to laugh, roll my eyes, or go inside.
“No Trespassing” signs stopped me.
I needed a happy close.
On its north side, Pampa hosts a one-of-a-kind “musical fence.” It ‘sings’ the opening bars of “This Land Is Your Land,” as composed by Pampa’s most famous citizen: Woody Guthrie.
If you can play an instrument, you can play the song by following the fence.
Woody lived in Pampa throughout the 1930s. The folk singer dropped out of high school to self educate at the city library. In addition to songwriting, illustrating, and painting, he worked as a busker (musical street performer).
I wonder, “Did Woody busk on the downtown bricks?”
By the way, check out the final verse of “This Land Is Your Land.”
NOTE: In this second of a four-post series, I answer the question, “How’s my hometown, 37 years after I abandoned her?”
I journeyed to the Texas Panhandle to bury my eldest sister.
A sad moment, yes, but an opportunity, too. A chance to cruise old “stomping grounds,” using wizened eyes, peeling away teenaged angst, and replacing memory with meaning and appreciation.
A drive-by to First Home revealed a house I recognized only by outline, shape, and a large front window. At the large trees, I smiled.
From the pinkish-paint to the solid front exterior, everything looked new. Extended carport, enclosed porch. Two sticks: flag pole and yard light.
My family’s decade here — mid-’50s to 1964 — vanished into history. Except those massive trees, adult children of my father’s planting days. I hear fierce hammering as he pounds wood squares tied with twine into backyard dirt still winter-hard.
I drive across town to New House. My eyes squint. This is, once again, a New House. Not ours.
A stranger tree guards where our willow once loomed. On the upper lawn, weedy grass covers where pink petals from our mimosa tree fluttered. The garage door holds windows and a stained picket fence graces our wide porch.
My second floor bedroom window is hidden. I take that as a good omen.
I’m two down for Home. Surely, School will be different?
At my first school, Sam Houston Elementary, I spot bare ground. When did this happen?
I imagine the terrifying teacher of that one year: Esther Ruth Gibson. You may remember my profile of her.
Mrs. Gibson terrified me. She stood six feet tall (or more) and greeted me the first day of class. I cranked my neck skyward then buried my Size five torso into my mother’s skirt and burst into tears.
The terror of that year lingered in my memories until last year. I found a letter Mrs. Gibson wrote my parents and closed with, “Melanie is a writer.”
Mrs. Gibson knew first.
One more elementary school to view: Austin Elementary where I attended grades 2–6.
I recall a playground filled with non-stop action. Swing sets, slides, and a see-saw, plus some kind of whirly-bird contraption.
Where do today’s kids play? Or do cell phones and iPads count as recess?
One last school stop: Lee Junior High, a name now buried into history and, soon, dust.
I marvel at the unintended symbolism: an abandoned flag pole and a broken handicapped ramp. With potholes for a bonus.
Too delicious for words.
Intentional? Or merely clueless?
I left my hometown with one more question.
Where is Home when your houses and schools vanish?
NOTE: In a first of four part blog, I answer the question: “how’s my hometown of Pampa, Texas, 37 years after I left?
News of Pak-a-Burger’s demise stopped my heart.
Home of the best hamburgers in the Milky Way, this drive-in burger joint earned its reputation for cheap food, sold hot and greasy.
Locally owned and operated, Pak-a-Burger opened the same year — 1954 — my parents relocated the tribe to this Texas Panhandle town. Like so many families in Pampa, we were in the “oil-bidness,” my father earned the money, and my mother raised the children.
Eating out was a Big Deal. My parents complained of the cost, similar to their carping about long distance calls and new school clothes every August.
They broke down on some Saturday nights, opting for Pak-a-Burger treats. Even the best mothers break down after too many tuna casseroles.
My order never changed: Combo #3, Cheeseburger and Fries. We never ordered drinks or dessert. We had plenty of Dr. Pepper and stale cookies at home.
Mention Pak-a-Burger and I go Pavolovian. Yes, drool. Consider:
Little white sacks dotted in grease stains.
Seven-inch burger buns smashed down, the insides branded with charcoal stripes. Thin beef patty hanging beyond the bun. American cheese dripping over tiny fingers. Lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle imprinting against the meat.
Second sack held French fries too hot to touch. But when these long oily slivers cooled off, they stuck in bunches of six or seven so you learned early to eat them fast and free. As in sans ketchup: why adorn perfection?
Several years ago, we buried my mother then treated the nine grandchildren to Pak-a-Burgers.
“These are good?”
I noticed all the food was consumed within a half hour. Or the youngsters were really hungry on that long, tough day.
Two weeks ago, we buried our oldest sister in the hometown church.
I insisted on one last Pak-a-Burger run after the service.
We spied the green light, read the diner’s urgent message, “Call In/Take Out Only.” The white shoe paint on the window boosted its homespun appeal, as it reminded us. Small town America suffers the Covid blues, too.
Later we learned the news: Pak-a-Burger’s owner sold the real estate for development.
This town of 17,000—less than half the population of my childhood years—needs that promise of something better.
Despite years as a radio journalist, I never looked inside the machine that sent my stories out into the world.
Then I found this, the backside of my grandmother’s old radio:
At the bottom of the picture, as if lying down for a long nap, lies what you’re no doubt looking for: the radio dial. Here it is, full frontal:
I’d forgotten that radios once had shortwave and police bands on top of the information and music channels we utilized most.
In my grandmother’s day, AM radio was primo. Lawrence Welk was her favorite! When he switched to television, so did she.
Scope the station buttons on the lower right of the picture. You’ll find my grandmother’s favorite AM station, KPO, marked by its broken, smudged glass. It’s an old San Francisco radio station. Did Welk produce his show there?
From the station buttons, my radio friends will recognize KGO, KARN and KONO. The others are all California-based, still on the air, 70+ years later.
The FM band would have meant Future Media to my grandmother. But I wonder if she ever listened to the police band. Maybe shortwave radio? On a lonely Saturday night after her son had left home for university?
This old radio enchants as does the larger set of my grandmother’s furniture.
I remember the glitz of her Adolphus Hotel apartment. Dinners included soft jazz emanating from the black box and cocktail ice clinking from the cart. Fancy, intimidating moments for a little Pampa girl.
Perhaps it’s not the memories, but nostalgia for old equipment? Today’s gizmos can’t replicate the simplicity of a one-function device. Solid state and digital technology isn’t as warm as wood and doesn’t glow like tubes. Also, satellite voices talking to the masses never impact as deeply as locals who name names.
But you reach a point where the past can’t keep talking to you.
So, we donated these pieces to Vintage Sounds Houston. They’ll find a home for these gems.
Meantime, I clear out my space, listening to the future now.