Home: Ghosts Haunt but Woody Guthrie Sings

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.

1926 & an oil boom led to the moniker "Town with Muddy Streets."
The moniker “Town with Muddiest Streets” followed a 1926 oil boom.

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.

Thank you Mike Cox for this "Texas Tale" excerpt.
Thank you, Mike Cox, for this excerpt from “Texas Tales.”

One thing about my hometown had not changed.

Black circles (for mourning, anyone?) mark the old night deposit dropoff, the 1940's bank name over the front door, and the eagles keeping watch over downtown.
Three black (cough) circles, from left to right, mark: the old night deposit slot (pre‐ATM days), the bank’s name over the main entrance, and granite eagles that watch all.

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.

The black circle notes my ’62 hospital room.

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. 

“Ghost Hunters” profile a haunted hospital.

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.

Pampa welder Rusty Neff created the art piece and its 12‐foot treble clef to honor his father. And Woody Guthrie. At night, the fence illuminates in red, white, and blue lights.

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.”

We need more Woody Guthries.

Can You Go Home Again?

NOTEIn 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 birth through first grade, I learned here to walk, talk, and eat dog food. Future blog post?

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. 

Second grade to high school graduation, I learned Life in a home and town I couldn’t wait to escape.

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.

By the tree stood my first grade classroom, a loud, cavernous space filled with strangers.

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. 

This bike rack beats the decrepit mess of steel we had. 

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.

None remains.

Where do today’s kids play? Or do cell phones and iPads count as recess?

Potholes dot a cracked parking lot, offering metaphor?

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?

Hometown Road Trip, Part 1

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.

Technically it’s a drive‐around as in drive‐to, park‐near, walk‐up, sit‐and‐wait, then drive‐around.

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? 

Today’s menu includes Mexican food and BBQ? Egad!

Several years ago, we buried my mother then treated the nine grandchildren to Pak‐a‐Burgers.

Their response?

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.

Perhaps green means go — for a later opening on an hot August afternoon?

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. 

Drive‐up side reveals an interesting synchronicity: the burger shack and my eldest sister each lasted 66 years.

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.

I hope it comes.

Sooner rather than later.

I leave with one question.

What’s home without Pak‐a‐Burger?

Old Radios, Aging Broad

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:

Guts-eye view of my grandmother's 1948 Crosley radio
Guts‐eye view of a 1948 Crosley radio: aren’t those vacuum tubes gorgeous?

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:

Four wave bands — AM, FM, shortwave, and police — with push buttons for on/off, sound, and station controls.

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.

Entertainment center with cocktail cart; console includes turntable on upper left with storage for 78‐speed records below.

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.

Which voice do you tune in?

Fast, Masked & Waaay Far Apart: Corona House Closings

Six months to clean, 73 days to sell, and ten minutes to close.

That’s a pandemic time stamp to wrap up the “house” part of my sister Mimi’s life.

This timing mimics, with numbing speed, the roller coaster of grief and estate matters that first hijacked my life last October.

Like clockwork, coronavirus hijacked our last biggie: the closing of my sister’s house last week. But this day brought the quick dealmaking I’ve ever experience with a house sale.

The red alerts began with the title company’s final email the day before: 

Email screams: “This is not your average house closing!” At least we were warned: nothing ‘ordinary’ here. But we’ve known that since last fall…

We gathered at the house of my other sister, Merrilynn Stockton. The thick wad of house‐closing papers arrived.

Thank the hand model (Merrilynn) for displaying the customary wad of dead trees, all “required” for a house closing.

We sisters signed. And signed. And signed. Even as our fingers and palms cramped and ached.

DH had paperwork, too: a silly affidavit with legalese about inherited versus community property.  

Merrilynn delivered the completed papers. I took the historic photos. Terri, the Title Lady, inspected our signatures.

Who’s missing from this party?

Yes, the buyer.

A young couple from outside Houston bought our sister’s house. From the documents we’d signed, we discovered they had sat in their own remote location the day before. They wrote their names a bazillion times, too. All we learned or saw of them was their signatures.

Closing on a house used to be fun. Now, it’s only memorable.

This one I’ll remember as the most creative. Which has taught me one thing.

When chaos reigns, you can do anything — even clean, sell, and close a house.

All you need is willpower.

By the way, have you updated yours—your will, I mean?

I promise that’s my last friendly reminder.

You don’t want to live this road trip.

Have Shields, Will Travel

Four months buried in the ‘burbs, this RoadBroad needed a break.

Off to The City — that’s Houston, by the way — I drove, my trunk bearing sack loads of face shields. Each was destined for other broads, all writers like me.

We Wednesday Writers “talk” weekly to share stories either written or read in the previous six days. Yes, it’s a Zoom chat — what else is there nowadays?

Each visit renews my life. Literally. And connection matters.

During last week’s screen visit, I casually mentioned a recent find: face shields, available by the table‐full at a local store.

What do they look like?”

The question landed in multiple. I tried to describe: It’s a sheet of clear plastic that hangs below your chin, almost to your chest, with a blue plastic band that goes around your head.

I modeled mine then volunteered to gather more for those interested. On Sunday, I delivered, realizing on the way that the drive marked only my second trip into The City since March. Another first in 30‐plus years living here.

How many more firsts will I live? How many in this pandemic alone?

The next surprise came with when I saw my writer friends for our carefully‐planned, all‐masked, mostly‐distanced reunion.

Happy.

No hugs.

Sad.

I learned it’s hard to stay physically away from people I care about. It’s triple‐hard when it’s several people.

I learned real human connection delivers a buzz that nothing else can. That buzz amplifies the more I connect with others in person as evidenced by another friend reunion later that day.

Maybe that’s my Big Learning from this entire coronoavirus pandemic: relationships really do matter to me, the self‐proclaimed, fiercely fiesty, independent creature.

Why I Became a Street Walker

Note to Reader: She’s on the war path. Just sayin’…

I walk four miles every day.

Before dawn each morning, I don my black pack then stuff my orange towel into the waistband.

My exercise comes from a habit born of a health crisis. It mimics, on a much smaller scale, this Covid‐19 nightmare that whacked us all three‐plus months ago.

The lessons, however, are the same.

I walked and I’ve kept walking. Then the neighbors joined in. Great! I thought.  A collective pursuit of better health!

Not so great anymore. Now, we’ve got neighbors of neighbors walking our sidewalks and pedaling our streets.

Frustration overwhelms me these days because of this one simple irritant: a common lack of sidewalk manners.

I do not mask up to walk. I would suffocate in such a four‐mile adventure.

I do, however, step off the sidewalk when someone approaches. In one fluid move, I cover my nose and mouth with my towel and never lose my stride.

The two actions matter as much as my breath. Together, the pair of moves protects my fellow walkers. And me.

In these recent weeks, a minority of walkers has matched my move. Sometimes they even beat me to covering up or stepping away.

But the more common reaction involves what I call the barrel away. These strangers scooch steadily toward me, never slowing. As they barrel into their shortened version of social distancing, I hop down to the street. These walkers, oblivious, continue their barrel away down the sidewalk. It appears only their walk matters. Is this their corona daze?

On the worst walks, crowds come. I’ll spot three to five walkers jammed in a horizontal line across the concrete, aimed head‐on at me. And as I step down, they glide by like an incoming tide.

The guiltiest party involves the high school track team but I’ll forgive them. They’re teenagers, self‐involved.

Even so, age shouldn’t matter—aren’t we all in this together?

Elected officials have re‐opened most places. To get to any of those locations, we must walk. Through parking lots, malls, and airports; along beaches and dirt roads, into/out of restaurants and shops; even down to the mailbox. Then there’s those of us who walk to live.

Can’t we all walk and, when it may save a life, step away from each other? It’s only for a few feet and a few seconds. It might keep all of us safe.

Perhaps it’s a futile question and I should give up my rant and pray. Maybe, ultimately, the littlest among us are correct in their offering of sidewalk calm:

When FART = New CAR

Can six characters determine a car and its future?

His guffaw offered the first clue. My second glance confirmed the news.

This new car of mine is, shall we say, special! 

I’d called the insurance agent to report I needed to update our auto policy, thanks to new wheels.

He asked for the car’s VIN, short for Vehicle Identification Number. You know it as that windy string of numbers and letters tucked deep into the driver’s side of a car windshield.

The line of figures lies so low and tiny along the dashboard even children can’t read it. Thus, when I read the figures out loud, I concentrated on reading each letter and number. Each meant nothing.

But when the agent laughed, I scrunched my eyes, leaned in with my magnifying glass then echoed his guffaw. What slipped out was, “And I thought I bought a hybrid.”

After the phone call, I resorted to my old reporter days. I dug in for information. Thank you, Internet. Early popped up this VIN translation:

Image copyright. www.drivingtests.org.

The above graphic reveals the meaning behind the 17 characters that comprise a VIN. Imagine an automotive Social Security number. The VIN teases out the vehicle’s manufacturer, type, brand, model, series, engine size/type, year made, assembly plant, and vehicle production.

The first three digits comprise what’s called the WMI, short for World Manufacturer Identifier. In my new car, that = “7FA.”

The only problem? Those characters don’t fit WMI’s own rule. Said guideline states these identifiers refer to the car manufacturer’s country plus the vehicle’s maker and type.

Translation (and apologizing in advance for all these automotive acronyms): in WMI language, “7FA” indicates I now own a “multi‐purpose vehicle” manufactured by an unidentified car maker in Oceania. The latter includes only Australia and New Zealand.

True fact is I bought a Honda CR‐V, manufactured in Indiana by a Japanese‐owned car company. The window sticker verifies that, as does the rest of the VIN. Either I don’t know how to read long sets of characters. That’s somewhat probable. Or maybe there’s a secret system to protect against vehicle hijinks (aha! global conspiracy!).

Interesting that only the first three digits are wrong in this VIN. But it’s so simply corrected.

Change “7FA” to 1HA” and there’s my car: an American‐manufactured Honda “multi‐purpose vehicle.” (It’s actually a sport utility vehicle, but who wants to quibble?) Add that 1HA” to the existing “RT” and you get “1HART” — a car I’d drive with just that.

Alas, I’m stuck with the VIN I have. So I’ve named the car.

She’s Gassy.  For grins.

When Cars & Age Don’t Mix

I began driving (gulp!) nearly a half century ago. I figured out that factoid yesterday after buying a new car left me feeling Ancient.

My decade‐plus car gave up its air conditioning last week.

Second time in two years. I shouted Sayonara!

A plethora of car research later, I headed out on the road.

Blast from the past: when gears want a push, not a pull.

Inside car #2 at the second dealership, I guffawed at the dashboard: push‐button gears? 

My mind flicked back to childhood. In my mind’s eye, I saw Mother struggling to shift the skinny gear stick that poked out of the steering column like an Auto Gumby. Further back, I spied, from the back seat, as my grandmother Allie pushed what looked like sticky buttons on her dashboard then her big car inched forward.

Other car memories dropped in. None of our autos had:

  • Air conditioning
  • FM radio
  • Center console
  • Seatbelts, or
  • Power anything: windows, locks, brakes, or steering 

In the demo car, I eyeballed the dashboard, looking for the familiar, the necessary.

CD player?” I asked the salesman.

Nada,” he said. “Bring your phone and play your own music.”

I didn’t dare mention I have never downloaded music. I play CD’s or an old radio. Both serve my audio‐challenged purposes.

I asked about the car radio. He turned it on. I spied nirvana: high‐definition (HD) radio. Interrupting his chatty spiel, I hijacked the dial and searched for my favorite music — the tunes that calm, never crank‐ify, me. Eureka! Classical music!

The salesman interrupted my reveries, sharing other shockers about today’s cars (is this what I get for hating to car shop?):

  • Tires filled with nitrogen, not air
  • Auto inspections = no more stickers
  • Keyless entry = bigger fob, and
  • Cameras and radar eyeball parking, lane centering
The orange‐circled headline (lower right corner) screamed at me in the checkout lane the day I got my new car.

All these radar sensors, linked together by cameras and computers, come with repeated assurances about ‘spectacular’ safety devices.

I swallowed the Kool‐Aid. It’s called New Car Giddiness.

But I swallowed hard the next day when I spotted Consumer Reports. A cover article revealed a multi‐billion dollar industry now salivating over its planned “harvesting” of driver data from American cars.

Their goal? Million‐car tracking next year alone, salivating at a multi‐market revenue stream.

All fine, if data is used legally. But everything has a cause‐and‐effect. And a price. As do new cars with new gizmos.

I head off here now — to learn how to silence most of what I just bought.

When Voodoo Beats ‘Rona

I smiled at the fence and whispered, Ah, Dorothy, we’re not in Portland…” 


Memories of this infamous shade of pink — and the tasty product it telegraphs — drew DH and I to burst our bubble of coronavirus quarantine.

The lure?

Newest location of Voodoo Doughnut. In Houston.

As it’s been eight weeks since we’ve driven into The City, this road trip felt like an excursion into a foreign land. A first after 40+ years of Big H living.

We expected a repeat of our first Voodoo experience.

Portland, Oregon. Summer, 2018.

The locals swore a Must‐Do was sampling Portland doughnuts. Not a normal food choice for either of us. But DH and I share a hard travel rule: wherever, whatever, indulge as the natives do. Within reason, of course.

A two mile walk from our hotel, we discovered the Voodoo crowd: 

The never‐ending line outside Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland, OR (Image copyright, DSC_0242.jpg.)
Whatever you can doughnut, plus more.

Their wall‐mounted menu elicited a “Holy moly!” shriek. What you see to the left is one section of a three‐paneled menu.

Hard to see the variety. I remember what we ordered: Viscous Hibiscus, Blueberry Cake, Raspberry Romeo, Voodoo Doll, and School Daze PB&J. 

Good!” understates the divinity. 

But, truth is, the ensuing sugar rush hijacked my blogger’s eye and writer’s brain. And I no longer remember what else was on the menu — doughnuts or drinks. I do remember The Pink. 

The same Portland pink dominates the Houston store, too.

I smacked on these local bites of heaven but my eyes rebelled at all the Pepto‐Bismol pink.

Maybe that’s the point? 

A second point: after you eat your box of doughnuts (because who buys or eats only two or three Voodoos?), you need yummy tummy medicine! 

So, why not sell PB in your stores, Voodoo Doughnuts? A commission later?

Oh dear reader, I beg your forgiveness for my doughnut‐brain. This post does stink like a commercial. I promise the only green exchanged came from my own pocket. And it was a pricey grab: $2.80 per doughnut on average.

The second ouch! came two days later when I stepped on the scale. 

Alas. Must we always pay in both pennies and pounds?

Can’t we catch a break in these pandemic days?