Happy Halloween! Are You Scared? I’m Chillin’

It’s here! It’s finally here! Tomorrow is Halloween! Yes, I have been preparing for this day ever since November 1, 2019. I am currently sitting in my home listening to Halloween music and looking at my Halloween decorations. I found this little kitty in downtown Houston in a place called Market Square. Have you ever been there? If you haven’t, you should make plans to go. Even if you are one of those who still doesn’t want to go to restaurants or bars (like me) you can still view some of the spookiest spots in town.

If you wonder why this section of Houston is so haunted, it’s probably because it is one of the oldest parts of town. This particular building is called La Carafe. It is known as one of the most haunted spots in Texas. Over the years it has been any number of businesses, but now it is a famous local bar. It’s trying to reopen in light of Covid. It’s been a long time since I was in there, but it is a very friendly place. Even the ghosts that hang out there are supposed to be very friendly residents. Actually all of the ghosts that call Market Square home are supposed to be some of the friendliest critters around.

Then there is the Magnolia Ballroom. This one building used to be a compound of about 10 buildings that made up the Magnolia Brewery. Then during prohibition, they made ice. Now it is one spot on the second floor of a building where folks can rent space for parties, weddings, and such. Reportedly there are ghosts who like to dance around the ceiling of the large ballroom.

Market Square is not only the spookiest part of Houston, but it is also one of the oldest spots. It sits right next to Allen’s Landing. Houston was founded by the Allen Brothers and here where two bayous meet was the original port of Houston. The original Houston City Hall was located in Market Square.…all three of them. Each of them burned down before it was decided to find a new location.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s there were a few shops that sold merchandise for the growing group of hippies in Houston. Reportedly, one store sold cook books that instructed you how to make LSD in your kitchen. I’ve never found or talked to anyone who actually tried to do that. I hope whoever did is okay and survived to see the 1980s.

So those are my tales for this Halloween 2020. Isn’t this much more fun than listening to hours of news reports about the once again growing pandemic or the upcoming election. I think after I post this blog, I will turn off all screens and just relax and enjoy the ghosts and goblins. I only converse and make room for the friendly spirits just like Market Square. I will be wearing my lucky skeleton bracelet that I wear every year at this time. It must be lucky, because I have never faced any mean or ornery spirits while wearing it. I wouldn’t dare go out on Halloween without putting it on my wrist!

Enjoy your weekend and holiday! Stay safe!

Until next week.….

Pandemic Road: Witch Holiday or Which Holiday?

Seriously? Really? I tried to warn everyone. I both begged and cajoled. I specifically said Do Not Do It! Did anyone listen? I don’t think that I am the only one who cares, but yet here we are. This picture was taken last week when I was out running errands. A big old red Christmas bow on the top of a building. Two or three weeks before Halloween! Before Halloween!!!

In the immortal words of Gomez Addams (Addams Family Values, 1993), “Has the world gone mad? I seek justice.….Denied!”

Also, you can see the tree limbs in this picture. Many of the leaves are still green. Some have just begun to turn brown. Here in Houston, we have barely begun with fall weather. Today, as I write this, it is a brisk and chilly 79 degrees outside. A cold front (or what passes here for a cold front) is due towards the end of the week. The temperature might drop into the low 50’s.…..maybe once. Check out this weather map:

Please note that this “cold front” brought snow to my friends in Colorado. Here in Houston we still don’t have any plans for putting the snow tires on our cars.

Also, please turn you attention to that big red thing in the lower right part of the picture. There is yet again a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Let me repeat that. There is another hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Zeta. Hurricane Zeta. For the umpteenth time this year, everyone in Houston is blowing real hard to make the storm go into Louisiana. It’s nothing personal to any of the nice folks in Louisiana. But it’s been a busy and disturbing year and we just don’t have time for the nonsense this year.

Well, because 2020 is such an unusual year, I conferred with my friend and we have come to a decision. If you really must start your Christmas shopping early.……Before Halloween.….we will allow it on one condition. You are allowed to shop either in person or online if you frequent locally owned businesses. No box stores and for sure no national department stores. Period. That is our last and final offer. I don’t want to say anything bad will happen to you if you purchase all of your holiday gifts from some corporate giant of the retail industry. But if you look closely at my friend, you might be able to figure out that this is one critter you don’t want to upset.

If that doesn’t do the trick for you, please note that my friend has many other friends in the neighborhood. I don’t know the humans who live with these skeletons, but I believe they are members of my soul tribe. Don’t you agree? Before this year, I had never seen a mermaid skeleton. I can only imagine the sea voyage where these two met. I can’t get either one of them to tell me their tales.….not even the “fishy tales”! Get it? Fish tales! Yes, I amuse myself. How else am I supposed to survive a global pandemic, murder hornets and Christmas shoppers in the middle of October?

I remember back when I was a young child (why yes, that was a long time ago. I am old. I believe we used feather quills for pens if I remember correctly). We weren’t allowed to even think about Christmas or any other winter holidays until Thanksgiving was over. That meant that after we drew ghosts and pumpkins in school art classes, then we had to draw those ridiculous turkey pictures by outlining our hands. Egad! Childhood was so weird back then. It took a lot of patience to be young that long ago.

Until next week.….

Pandemic Road: Art and Compassion

Back in the good old days.….by which I mean the days before Covid 19.…I had two creative works accepted into different exhibitions around Houston. Originally there were going to be opening receptions with wine and hors d’oeuvres, patrons of the arts and various creative types. Alas, that was not to be. However, in this new day of virtual gatherings, the receptions and the exhibitions have been moved online.

The first of these is Compassion, a collaboration between Women in the Visual and Literary Arts (WiVLA) and the Holocaust Museum Houston. In this project pairs of visual artists and writers teamed up to bring forth their vision of compassion. I was chosen as one of the writers and I worked with visual artist, Josena Arquieta. Her painting is called Listen, which is a companion to my essay, It’s Time To Listen. The picture you see here is the exhibition book. You can see this exhibit by going to WiVLA.org and clicking on the exhibit link. If you want to see our work or purchase the book, you can go either to WiVLA.org or you can go to the website for the Holocaust Museum Houston. The online exhibition doesn’t always give the full text of the poems or essays. For the full literary version, you need to purchase one of the books.

My other exhibition, titled The Art of Attention, was a juried exhibition of art produced by students and teachers at the Glasscock School of Continuing Studies at Rice University. This is a work of art that I made while taking a class in collage from instructor Ellen Orseck. You can see the entire virtual exhibit at https://glasscock.rice.edu/sites/default/files/F20_CLE_Student_Art_Exhibit.pdf

Meanwhile, back here in my private oasis known as Halloweensville, my good friend Skellington has come to visit for a few days. He’s pictured below in his black traveling cloak. We’ve had several leisurely dinners out on the patio, because the weather has finally started feeling ever so slightly like fall. He travels the neighborhood at night to visit the other skeletons in the neighborhood. Below is a picture of one of my neighbors who likes to wave at people and other skeletons.

Between all of the virtual art and Halloween, I love this time of year!

Until next week.….

When Home Morphs into Hometown

NOTEThis 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.

Thick smoke from a truck fire draped the highway. Later, I recognized the effect: clouds as funeral pall.

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.

Another American city fades, its population less than half of 40 years ago.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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”).

DH makes his photo debut on RoadBroads. That’s him on the far left, ordering breakfast.

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.

A place I used to know.

Pandemic Road: October!!!

Guess what day it is? Are you enjoying it as much as I am? I hope so, but I’m not convinced. It’s the first day of October!!! If you don’t know the answer to my first question, please refer to the picture of my assistant helping me with this blog for a clue. It’s the first day of Halloween Month!!! What? You don’t celebrate Halloween all month long? I’ve been celebrating and decorating since Labor Day. Technically, there are some Halloween decorations that I leave up all year, but I really start decorating the day after Labor Day. No! You cannot judge me! If the Hallmark channel can start showing Christmas movies before Halloween, then I can start Halloween festivities after Labor Day.

October is also exciting, because we are drawing to a close on the 2020 Hurricane Season. Oh, sure there are two more storms headed to the Gulf of Mexico, but I have decreed that those storms will not bother me in any way. We have had our first cool front that really made it all the way through Houston. Temperatures are cooler. I am walking full force again around the neighborhood, at the Arboretum, at Hermann Park among other places.

The walks have been great, but there are already a few signs that things are getting spooky out there. I am beginning to see proof of ghosts and goblins afoot. Take this little Teddy Bear for example. Most Teddy Bears are cute and cuddly. Yet, this one looks a little angry and quite wet. Did this bear jump out of whatever car or stroller as it moved down the street? Does it intend to haunt the neighborhood? Or is it just angry, because no one bothered to pick him up after he hit the ground. As you can see it was able to walk safely to the side of the road where it could plan its next actions.

Then there is this little guy. In case you can’t read the sign in front of the fence, his name is Riblet. Yes, a Texas Longhorn named Riblet. We are being told that we cannot enter the corral, because Riblet is shy. Hmmmm… If my name was Riblet, I would not be shy, but I wouldn’t want any humans coming close to me. The name sounds like someone has plans for turning this little guy into dinner and that does not sound like fun for any critters in the Longhorn clan. I think Riblet should try to hurt anyone who gets too close with those mighty horns. I hope Riblet joins the Teddy Bear in haunting and Trick or Treating the neighborhood.

As the month progresses, I will do my best to keep us with all of the spooky goings on around here. I still have more decorations to put up and scary movies to watch.

Until next time.….

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?

Pandemic Road: What Is Normal?

A Saturday evening in August 2020. The Houston Symphony live streams a performance from Jones Hall in Houston, Texas. My dear friend and I are curled up on my couch with the laptop on the coffee table waiting for the music to begin. Before 2020 and Covid, we would be looking forward to the beginning of the new cultural season. We would schedule our tickets for the Houston Symphony, the Houston Ballet and the Alley Theatre. Are we culture snobs? No, of course not. But we are old, retired and healthy. And we like music, dance and theatre. Life is good.

So far this year we have enjoyed performances from the Houston Symphony, the Alley Theatre and Stages Theatre all from the comfort of home. Is it as exciting as getting dressed up and going down to the Theatre District for dinner before the show? Not really. But it is nice. The music is still just as good. We have heard Mozart, Vivaldi, Schubert, Stravinsky, Marsalis and others. It is great fun to see what kind of performances come out of a resident acting company while practicing social distancing. The actors are still as talented.…..maybe more so considering the new restrictions. The Houston Ballet has been very busy on Facebook. Many of the dancers have danced on roof tops, in back yards, and in parking lots. It is wonderful to see them.

In the midst of everything, Hurricane Laura made her appearance in Texas and Louisiana. It was a close call for Houston. Laura finally went east of us. How nice of her. However, no one really knew until the last minute where she was headed, so I am still enjoying some of the snacks I purchased and I have enough water to last me until Thanksgiving. Who would ever have known that between Covid and Hurricane season, the main supplies for any responsible household would include toilet paper, water and peanut butter. What an interesting time for our civilization.

However, do not despair! Today is September 1st!!! We know what that means, don’t we? Halloween will be here very soon! It is time to start decorating! Here is a picture of my new doormat. During the past years, I have had other Halloween doormats, but they all eventually wore out. I thought this one was particularly appropriate for 2020. Just wondering how many people are going to try to dress up as a “coronavirus”? The possibilities for creativity are endless.

As you can guess, from here on out, I will keep you appraised of all my Halloween decorations. I have a balcony and it will be decorated. I can throw candy down to any potential trick or treaters who happen to walk past. Now it is just a matter of how many skeletons and witches and such will join me on the balcony!

Until next week.….

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?

Pandemic Road: Finally Some Good Stuff

Boo!Finally! Some good news to report! Amazing how in the middle of a global pandemic, it just doesn’t take too much to excite me. My First Sighting of Halloween Decorations in local stores! Yes, I may have found these at PetSmart. That doesn’t matter. The point is that local retailers are selling Halloween decorations! Usually these gems show up for me at either the annual Halloween Store or Home Depot or Target. Typically this happens sometime in September. However, I don’t mind this occurring early this year. Everything else is different because of Covid. Why not Halloween?

I have seen some posts on Face Book about Halloween being cancelled this year. Has everyone lost their collective minds? No, don’t answer that question, because I am honestly beginning to believe that is a side effect of this virus. You don’t have to actually catch this disease. You can lose your mind just by hearing about it day in and day out while self isolating and worrying about friends and loved ones.

Of course we are celebrating Halloween this year! It’s more important and essential than ever! Since March we have all had to face our fears about life, death, and the uncertainty of our individual universes. Haunted decorations of viruses chasing us wily nily around our homes or neighborhoods should be a shoo in. What a great opportunity to find humor in our human condition. Most costumes involve masks anyway. Relieve stress through humor.

By all means, continue to wear your masks, wash your hands and socially distance. Do everything you need to do to stay safe and healthy. But take the time to relax. Self care. Halloween mindfulness. I personally am coming up with some creative ways to decorate my balcony. My neighbors can enjoy the decorations while continuing to social distance. I will certainly enjoy the decorations.