Mourning a Sister — and Fellow RoadBroad

I still reel from the news: my eldest sister is dead.

Late Wednesday, a sheriff’s detective knocked on my front door, asked me to sit down, and told me that Mimi had been found deceased in her home.

I remain in shock. So does my other sister, Merrilynn.

We three sisters were/are textbook Baby Boomers. Born 3–1/2 years apart in the ‘50s, we specialized in one thing: loving each other deeply while living independent lives with very different personalities.

We called ourselves, “Sisters United!”

We met on the road many times, including in Austin 40 years ago last May.

Our mother took this photo of us after my graduation from the University of Texas at Austin.

Mimi, Merrilynn, and Melanie = Sisters United!

Have you ever seen three sisters who looked so different from each other?

Our college experiences mirrored and contrasted in interesting ways.

Mimi also graduated from UT‐Austin, three years before me. Merrilynn’s graduation came in 1977 at nearby Southwestern University, where I attended my freshman year of college.

My university graduation was a miracle (said the older sisters; in retrospect, I agree). Their degrees came in multiple, both of them earning diplomas at the post‐graduate level. Me? I stopped at bachelor.

We shared degrees but not careers: pharmacy, education, and journalism. Link these, anyone?

By 2006, the three of us ended up together again, this time living separately in the Houston area. We moved our aging mother to the area, watching over her as only devoted daughters can.

We managed several road trips with Mother before she could no longer travel. New York (twice). California. New Mexico. Around Texas.

Sisters Birthday Dinner, 2012

2012 was a tumultous year in our family.

We had to move Mother into memory care. Merrilynn’s husband died of pancreatic cancer. My brain exploded from a ruptured aneurysm.

That fall, we sisters came together again. We joined Merrilynn’s tribe to celebrate her birthday that September.

Sometimes a family needs that kind of fundamental happy, if only for a single evening. I forever remember the tears that lined my eyes that night. They felt permanent.

Here we are now, seven years later — almost to the day.

Two sisters remain. 2019 is now another soul‐breaking year.  

I wonder how these cycles of life repeat. Death and life, hearts shattered and minds overwhelmed. Again. 

But, always, Sisters United!

As a final note, let me editorialize:

Mimi did not leave a will. She also did not plan to die unexpectedly.

Reality always beats naivete, creating a different journey for surviving family.

I beg you: love your family enough to leave a will. No one’s grief should become overburdened by unnecessary complications required by the probate experience we now face.

To each of you, thank you for sharing this life and road trip with me.

I love you.

Reading & Remembering the Home Team

Sports and me don’t mix. Blame my DNA.

For evidence, I enter my most recent road trip.

Free tickets and curiousity lured DH and me to watch the Houston Astros play Tampa Bay.

We saw our last Astros game in 1993. As in back in the previous century. Our Astrodome was still the 8th Wonder of the World. Nolan Ryan came back to the old home field to pitch one last time. He blew out his elbow and we never attended another Astros game.

Playing ‘gotcha!” with the past — as in three times in one night.

Imagine our surprise last week when, upon arriving at the new‐to‐us ballfield — Minute Maid Park — we spied this. Our first Astros jersey of the night. Ryan? Good old #34 — emphasis on old.

What are the odds that my return to sports would involve the same team and the same player on the same night — 26 years later?

Meaning comes where you find it. Especially when you’re not looking.

Playing with food: a ballpark game for adults only.

By the time we f.i.n.a.l.l.y. maneuvered to our seats, total exhaustion overwhelmed me.

So many people. So much color. So much noise.

Struck out by all the incomings, I returned to my standard healing response: gentle play.

What else to do with a cold pretzel on a hot night?

Look around. Make something new.

Voila! Pretzel + Diamond = Ballpark Playtime. Can you spot the two diamonds?

Reading books: the best game in the universe (all of them).

Afterwards, I turned to my first love: reading.

Yes, I brought books to a professional baseball game. Two of them, because options and variety matter. Like playtime.

My mother taught me well: bring a book because it will always feed you. Life won’t.

Her life‐long mantra echoed in my ear the following morning when I spotted my cousin’s words.

Lila had spotted my reading picture on Facebook. In response, she offered the Compliment of the Year: 

Seventy five years later — Austin to Houston — like mother, like daughter — I’ll gladly be the chip off that old block.

Everyone else can take baseball; I’ll take my books.

Anywhere.

When the Road Offers Memories & Change

March’s road trip to Austin offered a two‐fer.

Celebrate author‐friend, Dorothy Van Soest, at her latest book reading.

Swing by the University of Texas campus and cruise around on grounds where I once stomped.

I stop mid‐plan.

When, precisely, did I attend UT‐Austin? When did I leave?

My mind races back to graduation, spring of 1979.

I dig out my college diploma. Discovery yields an oh‐my‐god. 

I graduated from college 40 years ago.

Today.

What are the odds?

And…40 years? How did that happen?

The new‐graduate photo at right offers a trio of chuckles: an Instamatic photo enlarged to pixilating — beyond the limits of this ancient technology; Farrah Fawcett wannabe‐hair; and pair of ghastly raccoon eyes.

More questions: what was I thinking? Why, UT‐Austin, was my tassel red and not orange?

DH marveled at my pre‐DW look, worn so proudly a decade before we married. He marveled, too, at the UT campus, amused at how little I recognized.

My sense of loss‐and‐big‐change began at the communications building, my life center for three years.

Dull brown now covered the building known as the Rusty Bucket. Framed in weathered steel, the building’s exterior had morphed during our college years into a distinctive orange‐brown hue. So, we renamed the building. It stuck. What do they call it now?

New also is the building across the street: a stand‐alone home for UT radio with twice as many stations as in my day.

I began my radio career here, at KUT. But our studios sat deep in the bowels of the Rusty Bucket, an afterthought.

My chest puffs up. In today’s era of social media dominance, it’s a new point of pride that my alma mater supports radio like this. Even the pedestrian street‐bridge reeks of extra resources, even special privilege.

If faster access results in better news and information, bring it on, kids!

Down the street, I spot The Co‐Op, where we bought our textbooks. Nowadays, turntables appear to headline the sales.

I laugh. Old becomes new? I ask DH“how quickly will the youngsters figure out we dumped records and record players—for a very practical reason?”

At the Co-Op’s door, the welcome sign brings a laugh. I reach for my phone. In that instant, I remember how picture‐taking has also changed.

Snap a photo and wait a week to hold it in your hand. Take fewer pictures because each print costs a dime, or more.

How much has changed, and how little.

All in only 40 (short) years.

Honoring Mother, the Original RoadBroad

From Austin to Abilene, Salisbury to San Francisco, she taught me how to be a RoadBroad.

Indulge me, please, as I pay tribute on this Mother’s Day to mine: Glenna Lea Couch Miller.

From a childhood spent in an orphanage to a widowhood making up for lost time, my mother lived adventure and attitude.

It began with her 1927 birth in a “teacherage”—that’s government‐provided housing for schoolteachers—in Vernon, Texas. Here, Allie Couch holds up her surprise, born as the “but‐doctor‐I know-I’m-in-menopause” baby

From Vernon, my mother moved into a Corsicana orphanage. There, her father served as superintendent for much of Glenna Lea’s childhood.

Imagine sharing all your birthday and holiday presents with 250 Depression‐era orphans. Glenna Lea became a dedicated bookworm for good reason. Books were easier to share than a bicycle.

Reading, no doubt, honed my mother’s writing skills. Upon discovering her 1938 report card, I shrieked.

Evidence echoed an earlier report card, highlighted in 2/25/2019 post. Delighted, I showed Mrs. Mathis’ remarks to DH and shouted a loud aha! At last, I know who gifted this gene!”  

The teacher’s prescience also identified a family’s later tease point. Cough, cough: yes, math challenges were gene‐shared, too.

Later, Austin and a new bookstore summoned my grandfather. Glenna Lea moved through school in the capital city, landing at the University of Texas as a theater major.

While attending college, my mother joined a women’s singing trio. She spent her weekends during World War II traveling across central Texas to perform for base‐bound soldiers.

Mears Studio hired her to model. In those pre‐ballpoint pen days, UT students received these 3.5 x 5 inch “ink blotters” to use while taking class notes. Also, the studio enlarged this pose and plastered it on the side of their downtown building.

As an award‐winning actress, Glenna Lea dreamed of a Broadway career. Marriage and children interceded. Post‐war expectations ruled women’s lives.

Four children and two decades later, Mexico and deep‐sea fishing beckoned.

I doubt Mother caught this thing. Instead, I imagine her reading as she humored my father’s love of all things fishy. If I had laser vision, I’d bet money on finding books in that bag. Yes, plural.

Fast forward 37 years. Glenna Lea asked to join a daughter’s European honeymoon—“but only for the first week.”

The tallest church spire in the United Kingdom lured us to Salisbury Cathedral, outside London. Mother stopped outside to read the outside plaques., Spot the tiny, huddled figure in the lower left here?

And so her pattern began. Every day for seven days, she read every word she could find in, on or about the place du jour. Across England, Bride and Groom gawked and listened as Mother/Mother‐in‐law read about Salisbury, Stonehenge. Bath. Westminster Abbey. St. Paul’s. Roman Wall. Others sites, too, all now forgotten, lost to middle age.

After my father died in 1994, Mother hit the road. Big trips, somewhere, every year. Santa Fe. Washington, DC. San Francisco. New York City (multiple times). Colorado. Across Texas.

She slowed down when I did, joining me in walks along the Cane Lane at the stroke rehabilitation center.

In this single shot, I see a lifetime of dedication, love, and the full meaning of today.

If my mother could read this post, she’d say—as she always did—“Sweet girl, it’s perfect. And it’s your story to tell.”

I would answer back, “Thank you for your generous spirit. And Happy Mother’s Day, GL.”

On The Road With Scooters

Keep Austin Weird!

No, I am not being rude. Maybe you’ve seen the t‐shirts. Anyway, it’s an official slogan that was adopted by the Austin Independent Business Alliance.

And keeping Austin weird is fun. When I was there a couple of weeks ago for a book launch, I had the grand pleasure of staying at the Driskill Hotel. Yes, I have a weakness for historical and haunted hotels. Unfortunately I did not meet up with any ghosts while I was there, but I did spend a lot of time walking around downtown Austin. If you are familiar with the neighborhood, I walked up and down 6th Street, Congress, etc.

My Dear Friend and I walked carefully. To avoid all the scooters. Downtown was crawling with them. Apparently you only need the right app on your phone to rent one. Both citizens and tourists were riding them around the downtown area seeing what there was to see. Then when folks were done, the scooters were left on the sidewalk. There seemed to be an amazing lack of rules to this. Kinda like bumper cars except that half the folks were going 15 miles an hour on two wheels and the rest of us were walking on two legs.

Do you notice the nice gent in this picture driving his scooter down the street? Well, most scooter riders weren’t like this nice person. Most scooter aficionados traveled in packs. Sometimes they traveled on the streets and sometimes on the sidewalks. Sometimes they stopped for red lights and stop signs and sometimes they didn’t. Sometimes they went the wrong way down one way streets. They were wild boisterous packs of swarming scooter hordes.

In this picture it looks like the red scooters are taking aim with a cannon on a lone green scooter. Of course the statue helped by lighting the cannon. I wonder if the green scooter did some egregious act to rile the ire of the red scooters? I asked, but neither the scooters or statue would talk about it.

Many of the fun loving speedy scooter critters were young. I’m guessing a lot of students and recent alums from the University of Texas cruising the bar scene on 6th Street. But I also saw a lot of grey hair flying in the breeze as a gaggle would soar past. Was this part of a mid‐life crisis ritual? Go to Austin, ride a scooter, drink beer and bemoan a lost youth?

I only got almost hit once. According to the traffic light, I had the right of way to cross the street. I began walking, my Dear Friend tugged on my arm. I stopped just in time to see a woman careening around the corner.

And finally I leave you with this picture. Was this scooter on sale for $5? Was it free as long as it was adopted into a good home? Who can tell. Maybe there were rules to this sport that I just didn’t have time to learn.

Back in Houston we don’t have scooters flying around the streets of downtown. No one wants to keep Houston weird.

Until next week.….

Road Trip to a Book Launch

What a spring time! What a weekend! What a life!

I felt excited about all three of these as I spent the weekend in Austin, Texas. Another road trip for this RoadBroad! Usually it is just fun to travel to Austin and soak in all the “wierdness” that is the State Capitol of the Lone Star State. However, I had a very important reason for this most recent trip.

My dear Friend and I went to Austin to visit the Book‐Woman and enjoy a book launch for an exciting murder mystery called Death Unchartered by Dorothy Van Soest.

I met Dorothy last year when I traveled to Boulder, Colorado for the 10‐day writing intensive with Max Regan. It was just after my retirement from local government and I was beginning to make my way as a full‐time writer.

Dorothy lived in Austin for a while when she served as an associate dean and professor at the University of Texas School of Social Work before she became the Dean of the University of Washington School of Social Work. Turns out we knew some of the same folks in the Social Work field.

Dorothy has already published 10 books and Death Unchartered is the next one in the series of Sylvia Jensen mysteries. This is my first Sylvia Jensen mystery and I can’t wait to read the others. If you like mysteries, you will find this to be a real page turner!

The book launch was a success. The crowd was all but standing room only and Dorothy kept us all captivated as she shared several short readings with us. The story opens with a murder and gets more exciting from there. I won’t say any more, because I don’t want to spoil it for you. Believe me it is good!

Several of us writers traveled from Houston to Austin for this book launch. Melanie was there dressed in her traditional orange. RoadBroads are nothing if not loyal and supportive of each other.

Actually I am delighted to know that I am a part of a really great team of writers. Between Max Regan’s Colorado retreats, classes with the Spectrum Center Writers Guild, and weekly writing get togethers, we are at all stages of our writing careers. Some, like Dorothy, are old hands at the publication game and are willing to help those of us who are just now beginning to send out essays, short stories, and the like.

From Spring 2018 to Spring 2019, I have written a lot (but never enough!), I have submitted pieces for publication and occasionally get accepted, and continue to develop my writing chops. People like Max, Dorothy and Melanie have helped me transition from being a retired Social Worker wanting to write to being a full‐time writer and hanging out with writing friends at book launches.

Thanks to Dorothy Van Soest for coming to Texas for a book launch of Death, Unchartered! You can find it on Amazon, you local bookstore, or wherever you get your books! You can also check out Dorothy’s website at dorothyvansoest.com.

What a great Spring! What a great life!

Until next week.…..

On the Radio Road

The glory of a road trip is its implied permission to slow down and see.

Even quickies allow a glance of both.

First, I beg your advance forgiveness. This post is intensely personal.

Yesterday involved a quickie trip, four hours by car north to Kilgore, a small east Texas town near the Louisiana state line. There, at the Texas Broadcasting Museum, DH joined 17 other inductees into the Texas Radio Hall of Fame.

Big honor, big deal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dQtG38hfjw

This first‐ever RoadBroads video is worth your viewing time. Objective? Of. Course. Not.

Truthfully, 55 years’ work in one industry—radio and television—across four states and six cities merits celebration. In today’s world, where do you find that kind of dedicated work and unending passion? 

Our present‐day rush‐rush‐rush world celebrates the opposite: speed and superficial over slow and deep. The 240‐mile drive forced me to experience the latter.

The heavy blanket of morning fog hovered across fields that resembled where I grew up. Those Texas Panhandle wheat fields told me to leave. Now they spoke of memory rising in solitude.

The mist of this slow Saturday sunrise, sight offered hope, oddly.

Afternoon and a drive back home to Houston changed the view. A different kind of hope.

Something about the sun insistent on cracking with light, Cohen‐like. Clouds. Breakthrough. More hope.

I smiled, understanding unnecessary.

In between these trip bookends, the day became a trip down memory lane. Like DH, I worked in radio/TV news in a previous life. We used equipment like this every hour on the hour. We dubbed it The Board.

Translation: it’s one piece of equipment, used in the dark ages (aka ‘70s to early ‘90s) of radio to communicate with listeners like you. Standing before The Board in a now‐silent control room , my fingers twitched at my sides. Ancient muscle memory reactivated. Palms flattened against my thighs. My mind returned, smiling at the The Board, to the studio in Pampa—or was it Lubbock? Austin? Houston?

I backtimed to meet the network clean. Fingers hovered above the cart’s green “start” button, right thumb flat against the mic lever ready to go live, bladder squeezing tight for an overdue break, and lips ready to pronounce another station ID: “KPDN, Pampa, Texas. 740 AM on your radio dial. It’s eleven o’clock.” 

I swear I heard the station jingle in my ear, through non‐existent head phones. My mouth even whispered the time. In my memory, the network sounder blended in and the join was clean. “Yes!” I whispered.

Later, I saw these rabbit ears atop the now‐tiny‐looking television. Do you remember?

Change rules. Then and now, it always has. Even when we don’t like it.

Perhaps we can embrace that truth, beginning with slowing down. Going deep.

Seeing. Remembering. Celebrating.

Special memories. Special days. Special people.