Opening the album

I’LL BE TURNING 76 before the month’s end, outliving my father, so I opened the album to see what used to be, and I’m sharing with you because I’m a sharing sort of fellow.

I’ve posted some of these photos before, maybe all of them, but it’s been years. I began this internet writing effort in 2005.

I do not have lots of photos from my past. When my second wife tossed me onto the hard Houston streets in 1995, I left most of our photos behind. Wish I had not. It was almost 20 years of memories, but I still have some shots from before and after.

Let’s start when I was in the 7th Grade. That’s me in the middle. Note the shoes.

Roundabout that same year I would pose with my sister in the back yard of our home on Cesery Boulevard in the Jacksonville, Florida, suburb of Arlington. My sister will turn 80 next February, and she lives in what appears to be a double-wide in Arcata, California. We have not communicated in almost a decade. Why? In a nutshell, she is quite difficult.

Our backyard in the 1950s.
Movie extra in New Orleans, 1970s

By the late 1970s, I was living on Prytania Street in New Orleans with Julie who would in time become my second wife, but we didn’t marry till after moving to Houston in the early 1980s. It was while living on Prytania Street that I bought my first manly motorcycle while growing even fonder of the varieties of the demon rum. And gin.

Holding a highball and weighing 225 lbs.
With daughter Celeste, age 12.
With a French friend atop the Torre Latinamericana in Mexico City, the mid-1970s.

In 1976, Julie and I took our first trip to Europe. We visited England, France and Spain. This photo was taken outside our home on Prytania Street as we were heading to the airport. I am a foot taller than she is, so I was scrunching down a bit, bending my knees.

Or perhaps she was standing on a box.

She was a cutie.

In the mid-1980s, my mother and I split the cost of a “new” car for my daughter, and Julie snapped this photo at the moment I presented it to her. She was happy. I’ve been in Mexico 20 years now, and I’m still awaiting a visit from her and her husband, Mitch.

Celeste was happy to see me that day.

The following shot was taken in my apartment on Braes Boulevard in Houston around 1998. Still coping with my involuntary bachelor life, i.e. Julie, combined with having recently broken up with a lovely Latina, i.e. another name, with whom I was much enamored, I was not a happy camper. I cut all my hair off.

Another bad day.

But life improved. A lot! The following shot was taken on the patio of our favorite hotel suite in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, about 10 years ago. I did not weigh 225 pounds anymore. I was sleek and trim. Some would call me skinny.

One reason I wrote this post is because WordPress just now forced a new editing program on us, and it’s incredibly complicated. In the process of putting this together, I’ve become a little more comfortable with it, so I can continue for another 15 years.

There are new features. For instance, now I can put on a slide show, which was not possible before. Here are some color photos, all shot by me a few years back.

And below that is yet another new feature, a tiled gallery. Again, all my photos. All are clickable to see larger versions and to leave comments, which was not possible before.

My dad died today

us
The two of us in Atlanta around 1989.

NOT TODAY exactly, but at this point in his life, which is to say, as of tomorrow, I will have lived longer than he did. He died in 1991 at the age I am on this day.

Outliving a parent feels strange. I doubt I will live longer than my mother, however, because she made it to 90. I’m feeling quite creaky already, so another decade and a half doesn’t present much appeal.

I never called him Dad or Father or anything like that. I called him Charlie because that was his name, Charles. His middle name was Born. He was a Junior. I was almost a Third, my paternal grandparents’ wish, but my mother put her foot down on that. My father wanted to name me after Confederate Cavalry Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, but that’s when my mother’s other foot came down.

forrestSince Forrest went on to be a founder of the Ku Klux Klan, that name might have been problematic now were I living above the border. But my father, being a lifelong leftist and advocate of “civil rights,” did not admire Forrest for the Klan connection. He admired him for his generalship. Charlie was a Civil War buff, and Forrest was the best general in the Confederacy.

I guess my father just ignored that Klan crap. People rationalize.

Why I never called him Dad I do not know. And I never called my mother Mom or Mother or anything like that. I called her Dee, a nickname my sister invented.

We were a very odd family and remain so today, those of us still breathing. That would be just three — me, my sister and my daughter. No grandkids, no nieces, no nephews, no aunts, no uncles, nada. My mother often called us peculiar. She was referring to Charlie and his family plus my sister and me, her own kids.

She wasn’t referring to her side, the Powells. They were peanut and cotton farmers in the red clay of southwest Georgia, and not peculiar at all, just country folks, but I loved them more than the peculiar clan on my father’s side.

Charlie’s parents were devout Christians, one Baptist, one Methodist, and his one sibling was a lesbian, and so is mine, which explains the absence of nieces and nephews. The peculiarities go uphill from there. Or downhill.

My father and I were clones. We looked alike, sounded alike, had very similar personalities, were both career newspapermen, a field he entered purposefully, and I entered by necessity. He retired early, and I did too. He was a lousy father and, apparently, I am too.

In retirement he became famous in the small world of Haiku poetry. After I retired, I amused and irritated millions here on The Unseen Moon.

Perhaps that count is a tad high.

There were differences too. He lived through the Great Depression, and it affected him mightily. He detested travel, which I love. He married just once, and I married thrice. There was not an adventuresome bone in his body, and I am the opposite.

He was in the U.S. Army in the waning days of World War II, drafted late due to being almost 30 and having a wife and kids. He was sent to Korea on a troop ship. Yes, Korea, and he had a desk job. I never asked him about that experience. Wish I had.

We didn’t talk much.

On discharge, he returned to Georgia, never wanting to leave again. He had been an Atlanta newspaper editor when drafted, but he returned to start a rural life of chicken farming and writing short stories for pulp magazines. That didn’t pan out, and in about five years he was back in the newspaper business, this time in Florida.

Similarly, I left the newspaper business for a spell when I was in my early 30s in New Orleans, and it too did not pan out. I returned to newspapering in Texas.

We were both boozers, and we each stopped in our mid-50s. Life improved immensely for both when we took that smart step decades apart.

But I was never the drinker he was. I was an amateur in comparison.

I did not much like him, and now I’ve outlived him. Well, hold off on that because he died in the evening of his last day, so I won’t have outlived him till tomorrow.

He died in a hospital in Atlanta where he was overnighting for a colon cancer checkup. His cancer was in remission, they learned on the day he died from a massive heart attack right there in his hospital bed. We didn’t even know he had a heart issue.

I was in the Houston Chronicle newsroom that evening. I phoned him, and we spoke briefly before he brushed me off as he was wont to do. We hung up.

Within minutes, my sister called and said he was dead.

And tomorrow morning, I’ll wake to a day he never reached.

The Goddess willing.

Crackers, peanut butter & Coke

peanut

NOW THAT I do not have a family anymore, the original one, the one I was born into, I think about them fairly often. I miss them a lot.

Downstairs yesterday evening, alone and sitting on the scarlet sofa, reading the Kindle, I got hungry, so I stood up, and walked into the kitchen for a handful of unsalted peanuts, which I brought back to the sofa where it was comfortable.

Incense was burning, and the light was low.

My mind traveled from the peanuts to peanut butter and then onto crackers and Coke. That’s what my paternal grandparents, who were born in the 19th century, packed for road trips in the 1950s in their Chevrolet. They were in their 60s at that point.

When they arrived from Atlanta to our North Florida home, they’d still have some of those snacks in the Chevrolet, and then later, when they packed to head home, Grandmother would make more and bag them. They’d buy Cokes along the way.

My paternal grandfather owned a small general store during the Great Depression, and they survived fairly well, much better than many folks. My mother’s people who were farmers also weathered the Depression better than most due to growing their own food.

My mother’s parents owned Fords, but they never made trips, ever, which was different from my father’s people who were quite fond of driving about. Since my mother’s parents did not travel, I don’t know what they might have favored for road snacks.

It was not until last night that the fact that my maternal grandparents did not travel at all dawned on me. Maybe farming keeps one close to home, feeding the cows, plowing the fields, but I think it was more a matter of personality.

My mother’s father died when I was 12, and even then Grandmother tended to stay put. We visited her, not the other way around. Maybe she intuited something.

During a rare visit to our home in New Orleans a decade after she was widowed, she tripped and fell one night, was hospitalized, went downhill and slipped into death.

Her last trip. Hundreds of miles from home. She was 81. My favorite grandparent.

Funny where a handful of peanuts on a cool evening will transport your mind.

Memories of days gone by

Eronga
Town of Erongaricuaro.

NINETEEN YEARS ago, I received the first and last visit from family members above the Rio Bravo. My mother and sister. I picked them up one evening at the Guadalajara airport and, as we drove to a downtown hotel, my sister asked:

Are most of the people who live here Mexican?

She was 59 at the time and had never been to a foreign country. It was her first and last trip outside the United States. She’s 78 now and, I imagine, will never leave her homeland again. She prefers the craziness of California.

After one night in the Guadalajara hotel, we took a bus to the neighboring state’s capital where I was renting a house. A couple of days later, we boarded another bus to the mountaintop town where I live now and stayed in a hotel for four nights.

We were tourists.

And during that time on the mountaintop — before I moved here, mind you — we took a taxi to a small town on the edge of our large lake, a town with the mouthful of a name Erongaricuaro, also known simply as Eronga because it’s easier to say.

We walked around a bit, but it began to rain, so we returned to the main plaza to catch another cab, but no cab was to be found. We sat on a bench and waited … and waited … and waited. No cab appeared. It was about to get dark.

A chicken bus pulled up, one of those ancient, smoke-belching, retired school buses that were common in these parts back then. They have since disappeared, replaced by smaller, nicer, more modern forms of local transportation.

We climbed aboard the chicken bus and returned to our hotel on the mountaintop.

Two days later, we went back to the state capital for another night, and then we bused to Guadalajara again for their flight back to Atlanta. Neither ever returned, but they did come that once. My daughter has yet to visit.

Yesterday afternoon, we drove to Eronga, parked the Honda on the small plaza, bought ice cream and sat on a plaza bench, the same steel bench on which I sat with my sister and mother 19 years ago. Facing across the street, I snapped the above photo.

I think about the visit of my mother and sister every time I sit on the plaza of Erongaricuaro, which I do now and then because it’s not that far from the Hacienda. But on that late, rainy afternoon 19 years ago, it seemed to the three of us that we were in the middle of nowhere. And then there was that ride on the chicken bus.

My mother is long dead. My sister lives, I think, in Arcata, California, and my daughter lives in Athens, Georgia. I have no other Gringo relatives.

But I’ll always have Eronga.