Sunday, September 30, 2007

Lessons in a Hurricane

I learned a valuable lesson about preparing for hurricanes from my grandparents. It was in August 1983 and I was done with college and back home in Texas City pursuing a freelance career. I often visited GranMommy and GranDaddy during the day when I wasn’t showing my portfolio or doing an illustration.

I had always heard a number of stories from each one of them about hurricanes that they had endured. Hurricanes where the neighbors came to their house to ride out the storm, or when GranDaddy had to drive his wrecker through the storm to rescue someone, and they usually ended up at the house. I am still impressed with the intrepid spirit that they displayed on the old days.

In August 1983, my parents and sister had gone on vacation up to the Hill Country for a couple of weeks, and I stayed in Texas City because I had to get my freelance business off the ground.

This August was a little different, mainly because a serious hurricane appeared in the Gulf, and from what I remember, it steamed in to eventually hit the Texas coast between Freeport and Galveston pretty quickly. Too quick for my parents to come in from Wimberley and too quick to try to convince two old hurricane veterans that they should perhaps take their leave and watch from a safe distance. After all, GranMommy had practically built that old house herself, filling in the gaps where the drunk contractor left things undone. The exterior siding that the asbestos shingles were nailed to was put up on an angle for strength in a hurricane. I couldn’t have gotten them out of there with dynamite.

That is how I came to face the fury of Hurricane Alicia in the house that was over 50 years old at the time. GranDaddy had taken up his usual post at the southeast corner of the living room two feet from one big window and three feet from the other. He was listening to the radio and we had the television tuned to the news. GranMommy and I sat on the pullout couch, focusing on the television and aware as well of the rising wind and slashing rain outside. As the night wore on, we heard the rain battering the house, and the water ran down the chimney like sluice, making us more and more uneasy. In the increasing gusts, the siding started buzzing like a clarinet reed. Occasionally we would see the flashing lights of a fire truck as it patrolled the streets. I don’t know if it even crossed anyone’s mind to go catch a ride with them to a reinforced building that didn’t have a fireplace pouring water inside. We just sat and watched.

About 11:30 or so, an earsplitting bolt of lightning popped outside, and instantly the interior of our sanctuary went dark. We all sat still for a moment, and I asked GranDaddy if he had a flashlight. He reached wordlessly into his cabinet by his chair and produced one. He flipped the switch and a weak yellow glow lasted for a few seconds, then failed in fear of the storm. I asked if he had batteries for the flashlight or the radio. He just started to laugh. A hearty, sort of embarrassed laugh, that spread to me, and I think even GranMommy chuckled a little.

Fortunately, they had an oil lamp for decoration on the mantel, and it was in working order. The rest of the night, we sat there in the pale light and listened to the extreme weather out there, getting wilder every ten or fifteen minutes.

At least five times that long night, we heard the freight trains pass by. Apparently, big, long, loud trains that, strangely enough, never did use their whistle. Their roaring roared above the normal roar of the storm, they produced extra sounds that were a little more unfamiliar that the other unfamiliar sounds we had grown accustomed to made us more uncomfortable. The most disturbing thought that I know we were all thinking, was that the nearest train tracks were about three or four miles south of there.

At about two or three a.m., the rain and wind stopped. Completely. The false calm of the eye descended like a great wet blanket. GranDaddy and I went out front and looked around a little. There was an eerie silence, not a breath of wind. We did see evidence that one of the trains had come down their street; the tops of several trees were twisted out and deposited upside down some distance from their home trunks. The train was definitely a tornado, as were all the others.

As the night wore on, we never spoke of what to do if Alicia, not content with howling outside, decided to come inside for coffee. It was a good thing she didn’t, in all the excitement, we had forgotten to make any.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

New Technology

Never let it be said that this geezer doesn't try to keep up with the newest things. Well, sort of new things. You may have noticed that I changed the header to this esteemed blog, and changed the "recent posts" section. Just an effort to adapt to this changing internet thing.

So here is a look at something from Photobucket, a big, free (of course, if I'm using it) service to keep a mess of photos on.

So check out this slideshow. I just hope it doesn't mess with the dial-up contingent. Which I'm still a part of at home. Surprise surprise.

Muu Muu

Yes, I saw a muu muu yesterday. I didn't think that they even made them anymore. I was appalled. But strangely fascinated.

In a local pharmacy, the one where the goobers work, I was waiting to be acknowledged by the vapid, slow-moving girl behind the counter. As I looked past her at the efficient frenzy of activity of the pharmacists and two other techs filling and dispensing prescriptions, I couldn't help wondering if this girl was in the right store. She was waiting on a woman with a gravelly whiskey tenor voice who was hiding at the corner of the customer side of the counter. I hadn't seen her till she spoke with the smoky growl that identified her as a smoker of multiple thousands of cigarettes over a majority of her life. The voice and the stench of stale tobacco smoke seeped across the four feet separating us.

When I looked her direction, I had to force myself not to stare. At least while she was looking up. She was replete in her turquoise and sea-green muu muu, and the effect was capped off, so to speak, by a blue Hang Ten ball cap, turned backward. The cap had a Hawaiian print that sort of matched the garment. Sort of.

I didn't get to sneak a peek at her footwear, the slow-mover finally made it to the counter with the medications that the veterinarian had prescribed.

SO, I was left in dumbfoundment for a short time while processing what I had just witnessed; a fashion gaffe that should never be repeated. Or imagined. Oops, sorry.

Just try put it outta your mind.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Wordy Guy II

OK kids, you know the rules...let the play begin. Monday I'll post the answer and the winner. Heck, I know, you'll all have checked the dictionary by then, but I'll make it official.



A. A clasp that is part of a yoke used with draft animals, such as oxen or mules.

B. A small bone that enables some animals to turn their ears in many directions.

C. A short line used for shading and denoting surfaces in relief and drawn in the direction of slope.


C. "Sis" is the winner! First correct answer.

Thanks for playing Wordy Guy, and hope you will join us for the next challenge.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Cheap Shots

As promised, a month ago, I am posting some "Cheap Shots" from comments on Cheap Defined. This is from Dr. Blogger, a sometimes reader and poster on even rarer occasions. I try to encourage him to start his ownblog, but he either resists or just ignores me. But he has some great stories, and here is one:

My Grandfather was cheap, . . . intelligent, loving, caring, responsible, but still cheap. He saved old pencils from his work as a school principal. He sharpened them carefully down to the point that even as a small child, I found them hard to hold. In fact, the lead in some of those pencils had been around so long, that the graphite had begun to break up to the extent that one simply could not write with it.
Then he saved rubber bands. He carefully wrapped them around his wallet. This actually served two functions: it saved the rubber bands and it kept the sacred contents of his wallet encased. And, as you might expect, when called into service, the rubber bands invariably broke when stretched the least amount.
Also, he would clip every grocery store advertisement from all local newspapers, compare and contrast them, and then on shopping day, drive his car to each store and pay the lowest regional price for the various items. My guess is he spent dollars in gas in order to save pennies on carrots and tomatoes.
His miserly and Calvinist ways would also lead him to pinch pennies on his alcohol consumption. He liked having family at Christmas because he could justify buying a quart of eggnog and a half pint of bourbon. Then he would make himself literally a half serving of weakly-spiked eggnog on Christmas Eve and that would be it. He would not drink another drop. The family would easily consume the remainder so that nothing was wasted. Several uncles accepted a serving only because one should not waste the resource. His one other "bout" of drinking would be on a very rare Saturday in August, when after a lawn mowing session he would visit a neighbor and accept a small glass of beer, after being reassured that it was indeed good for him "in this weather" and that the remainder of the beer would be taken care of by the neighbor.
Clearly, having lived through the Great Depression led him to believe that if you take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Wordy Guy

Wordy Guy is Rob V., a frequent commenter here at GeezerChron, and he has been emailing several of us in the office with these words accompanied by definitions ranging from true to false to better than true. Your mission is to either fall for one of Rob's superb "imaginifitions" or know (guess) at the real word. Please answer in the comments, I will eventually post the correct word in an update.

Thanks for playing "Wordy Guy"!


A. A large drawer with compartments once used in the printing trade

B. A game similar to hide-and-seek that is popular among children in the Middle East

C. A person of integrity and honor


I would like to thank our four contestants, 75% of whom got the word right, 25% pulled the Barbra Streisand movie from somewhere else (Yentl), but still had the Yiddish angle correct.

The word "mensch" is Yiddish for "man", literally, but in reference to being a good man of integrity and honor, yadda yadda yadda.

The speediest winner was the Aggie, so when she visits she can have an extra piece of gum or something.

Thanks again for playing "Wordy Guy", and look for the next installment. I expect ALL of you to play next time.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Something Unexpected Came Up

Yes, something unexpected did come up at Chinese School today; William's lunch. The second class had just gotten in and eveyone was settling in to their chairs. I looked away for just a second when I heard something like a can of soda being opened. I looked at the kid closest to me, William, and he was holding both hands up to his mouth with liquid streaming through his fingers. He had a shocked and embarrassed look on his poor little face, and I raced for the trash can, which was unfortunately across the room. As the can came to a landing at his feet, he leaned over and spit out what he had held in his mouth. I picked up the wastebasket and ushered little William out the door and down the hall. He reflexively shook the residue hanging from his hands, and I quickly instructed, "Don't fling..." a couple of times on our trip down the hall.

The other kids were in shock...for a few seconds. Then the expected chorus of "EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWWWWs" began. As I hustled our little fountain into the restroom, they sat quietly. Meanwhile, as I had William wash his hands in the sink, and questioned him if he was finished, he began vomiting again, this time in the sink. An endless stream kept issuing forth from the helpless lad, while I stood like 248 pounds of lard staring at his little face frozen in the mirror, heaving over and over, filling the sink beneath his small hands.

When he finally stopped hurling, he commented that he had eaten at Ryan's for lunch, and that some bacteria must have gotten mixed up with his food (this is an eight-year-old talking, these are his words). I asked him if he wanted us to call his mom or anything, but he said he would go back to class.

I left him for a second to wash up, and hopefully not spew into the sink again, while I went in to clean up the evidence in the class. As I wrestled reams of paper towels from the roll, the other kids began to fully comprehend what had happened. One of the spokespersons for the class said, in a loud and clear voice, "GOSH, I think I'M gonna throw up NOW...". I hoped she wasn't speaking prophetically, since there were eight other kids in the class most likely thinking the same thing. Heck, I was thinking the same thing. The same little girl asked how I could stand cleaning that up. I replied, "I'm a dad, I've had to do this a million times". In truth, that was the only thing that kept my Whataburger in its place.

As I went back to check on the unfortunate kid, I steeled myself to what I may possibly wade into. Fortunately he was washed up, mostly (except for a little piece of corn on his cheek *shudder*) and ready to come back to class. All the while he was muttering about what it might have been that didn't agree with him at lunch. He was using those words, too. I think he will work as a doctor or CSI eventually.

I am happy to report that William survived the rest of the class, in a different chair, without further incident. And all other lunches kept their places as well.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

'urricane 'umberto

So what's up with this thing that popped up and pushed in through here yesterday? In all my years of living on the Gulf Coast of Texas (although only a few of those I was actually paying attention to the weather, granted), I have never seen something come up so fast and so hard.

Apparently, the meteorologists were caught flat-footed, too. But that didn't keep them from hyping and inflaming everyone. I am surprised that an evacuation wasn't called for. Not that anyone would have actually gotten on the road, but still, they could shame everyone for not caring about safety and the lives of all the innocent children and pets.

Where I work, the crisis turned out to be a drill to see how everyone would work within all the departments in the event of a real hurricane, tsunami, earthquake or nuclear holocaust. We seem to be fairly satisfied that the dry run came off smoothly. And actually stayed dry!

The weather people did get a chance, albeit short notice, to dash down to High Island and Bolivar to cash in on the slashing winds and pelting, horizontal rain. It was almost worth it to see Wayne Dolcefino buffeted by the wind. And believe me, it takes quite a bit of wind to buffet Wayne, IF you know what I mean. Good Morning America's Sam Champion (made-up name if I ever heard one) was "riding out the storm" in League City. He had a phone-in to the show, and they ran footage of Wayne in the middle of filing a near-unintelligible report through the howling wind and stinging rain. At one point, he just gave up and stumbled off camera. But Sam sat in a motel room eating Cinnabons and drinking cappuccino acting like he was braving the storm. And Diane Sawyer was complicit in ignorance, lapping up his story like a typical newshound.

'umberto was really a strange animal, though. To develop and charge ahead so quickly, I think even the old-timers (me) were surprised. But we weren't surprised by the media feeding frenzy.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Memorial for Darryl Ferguson

My Father-in-Law, Darryl Ferguson, passed away and we said goodbye to him on Saturday, August 25. It was among the saddest things I ever had to do. Growing older stinks if this is the kind of thing that starts happening.

I remember the first time I saw him; a large man lying on his stomach, propped up on his elbows reading the Chronicle. The television was on, and he barely spoke. Then he stood up. At about six foot one, around 240 pounds, OP shorts and a faded t-shirt, he was imposing. This is the look he called “Bumzilla”.

As I started coming over there more and more and more and more, I got to know this man, also known as “Fergie”, or if he felt so inclined, “Fergenstein”. He loved telling stories of when he was a kid, or as a young man hunting in the wilds of the Almeda area, when there was nothing nearby but jackrabbits.

Some of my favorite stories were about the store he owned and operated for years, Ferguson Food Center. The would-be robbers, troublemakers and crazy people provided enough material for a book. He used to sit at the counter reading the paper, and when a suspicious-looking character would enter, Fergie would reach under the counter for his .45 automatic, and casually point it at the possible trouble spot, follow him around the store, all the while concealing the weapon in the Twinkie rack and continuing to read the paper. He never had to do anything from there, but he would just say that he was ready, and the “Twinkies would get real hot, real fast!”

Ferguson Food Center was also the site of many other actions that weren’t funny, but that showed the real man, The store is in a really tough part of town, Wayside and Navigation for those of you familiar with Houston. Many times, some homeless person would wander in wanting to panhandle for some money to buy some demon rum. Some would even offer to sweep the parking lot or some other menial task for a little money. Darryl never gave them money, but more often than not would give them food, a burrito, a sandwich, or some other real food. They would say “Thanks,man...” and start out the door. He would tell them, “Have a seat, you have to eat it here.” He didn’t want them to go out and sell the food for Ripple.

Many times he provided food for people that he knew were down on their luck. The gruff exterior concealed the heart that was caring and compassionate and generous. I don’t think anyone will ever know how many people he helped and touched.

Another thing about Darryl, he always had impeccably shiny shoes. Most of what he wore day to day were black Justin ropers. They shone like a military man’s shoes, and although he never served in the armed forces, his footwear could be mistaken for a career Marine officer’s shoes. He routinely shined those boots every night. EVERY night. There must have been fifty coats of parade gloss black Kiwi shoe polish on them.

After he got finished with the store proprietor business, he became a bailiff in the Harris County Family Law Center, 308th District Court. Every night on arriving home, he turned on the television, but not the news. Instead his viewing of choice was the Three Stooges. He said that he had seen enough bad news and sadness for the day, and he just wanted to laugh. He had a dry sense of humor, but also had an affinity for slapstick. As my beloved would get ready for a date, Darryl and I would watch Stooges videos, or old dumb monster movies or just reminisce about our favorite Tex Avery cartoon gags. He also related stories from the courthouse. The most enduring line he used was the ever-popular, “Button your shirt and button your lip…”

I will miss Fergie for many years, and I thank him for the 25 years of laughter, advice and relaxed good times I enjoyed in his company.