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Posts Tagged ‘Kinky Friedman’

My last couple of posts, about my mother’s unhappy experiences in moving from her home to “assisted living,”  have been downers, and it’s time to talk about lighter subjects. During the last two weeks of March I had some fine adventures out in the Texas Hill Country, back in Houston, and up in Dallas.

First off, my friends Loretta and Beverly and I went to New Braunfels to see Arlo Guthrie perform at Gruene Hall, one of the oldest dance halls in Texas.

Standing in line at Gruene Hall

The show was great. The lovely and talented Burns sisters, Arlo’s son Abe, and his band opened the show – for two hours!. Then Arlo came out and they all performed for another two hours! I met up with my Dallas friends Jay and Shelley, my dear friend Doris Judd, who I met at a writing workshop, and spent some quality time afterwards with The Burnsies, Jimmy LeFave, Kil.Ler, Arlo’s former bus driver, now an agent for musicians, based in Austin.

The Burns sisters, Jimmy LaFave, and Killer

Doris, Shirley and Jay - Gruene Hall

Arlo and Shirley Gruene Hall March 2011

Shelley, Killer and Shirley Gruene Hall

A good time was had by all. Next morning, the Three Musketeers traveled farther west to visit my friends Nancy and Tony Parker-Simons, who manage the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch, founded by Kinky Friedman. I’ve known them for several years, and two finer people cannot be found. We spent the afternoon talking, eating, laughing, touring the ranch, visiting with the animals, and laughing some more.

Beverly, Loretta, Shirley and Nancy at the Ranch

Tony Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch March 2011

Tony has become an excellent photographer. He showed us some postcards he’d made that were National Geographic quality. One took my breath away, literally – a hummingbird caught in mid-flight. He has an eye for capturing nature – plants, animals, and oh yeah, even people – he took some that made me look good, and that’s not easy to do!

Nancy in Outer Space March 2011

In addition to being a Fine Human Being and one of my long-lost sisters, Nancy is a story teller, a writer, and a kind and loving woman with a heart bigger than Texas. Do I love her? Indeed I do!

Reluctantly we said goodbye to Nancy and Tony and all the critters and made the long trip back to Houston. But the fun wasn’t over yet! The next Tuesday Loretta and I attended the opening of a new play, “Becoming Kinky” – the story of Kinky Friedman in three parts. It was truly a great show, and we bonded with the couple sitting next to us, Mark and Joyce, then got to visit with Kinky and his sidekick, Jeff Shelby, aka Little Jewford.

Shirley, Kinky, Loretta, McGonigels Mucky Duck March 2011

Loretta, Shirley, Little Jewford, Joyce, Mark, and Kinky

We closed the place down, and as we drove away I saw Kinky in a meditative mood – or was he just wishing Jeff would hurry up and take him home?

Kinky Friedman after the play - March 2011

The fun was over for awhile, and it was back to work. In my next installment, I’ll talk about my mother’s 90th birthday party, and update her status on the “assisted living” experiment. There will be some good parts and some awful parts … but for a few weeks, my world was full of friends and fun and Texas in the springtime.

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There’s a hole in my heart today. That’s not a medical diagnosis–there is an empty spot inside me because on Monday, September 13, my friend David Thompson, as Kinky Friedman would put it, “stepped on a rainbow.” How did I meet David? I walked into a bookstore called Murder by the Book in Houston, somewhere around fifteen years ago, and there he was to greet me.  I love mysteries, read them, review them, attempt to write them, so I have spent a lot of time in that store, and through the years David became much more than a book seller to me, and to many other people all over the city, the country, and the world. He loved books, and it didn’t take him much time at all to know what each customer wanted, could make spot-on recommendations on what other books they might like – he never missed with any of the books he recommended to me. If he read a book by an unknown writer and liked it, he would often call and ask the writer to come to the store and do a signing-even if said writer lived in Brazil or Thailand.

MBTB has been my home away from home, my main source of a social life, the place where everybody knows my name … Carolyn Hart, one of the big names in mystery, had her first signing at the store, and one of her series features a book store based on MBTB. Lee Child, writer of the wonderful Jack Reacher thrillers, is long past the stage where he needs to do any touring to promote his books, but he makes a point of coming to the store with each new book. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of stories like that. The whole staff is wonderful, but David is the one who livened up the room and warmed the heart of everyone who ever met him.

A few years back, a lovely redhead named McKenna Jordan joined the staff. It took me awhile to figure out their relationship – David could get irritated and frustrated, and he often took it out on McKenna. She dished it right back. I figured they either hated each other or were in love. They were married in a Scottish castle two years ago.

My aunt told me what happened when my mother became a widow at age twenty-two. Her first husband died in WWII, leaving her with a little girl not quite two years old. When Mother got the dreaded yellow telegram, she walked home from the post office, handed it to her sister, and shut herself in her room. For two weeks she sat in a chair, not eating, not sleeping, not speaking. I know she is grieving for my father, who died last Christmas, but he was 89 and they’d spent 65 years together.

I’m editing this bit to explain why I mentioned my mother’s widowhood. The morning of my father’s funeral, her granddaughter asked her which was more difficult, to lose a husband so young, after just a few years of marriage, or to lose one after so many years together. Mother didn’t really have an answer – she said she’s always wondered what life would have been had her first husband lived to a ripe old age, but she knew she would miss Dad after so many years of marriage. I know what she felt in her heart, though. She did, and does, grieve for my father, but it is not the soul-shattering pain she felt so many years ago when that yellow telegram came.

McKenna and David should have had another 50 years to carry out all their plans and dreams. Life is not fair. We are not promised that it will be, but things like this are so very wrong and sad, and my heart breaks for all of David’s family, but most of all for McKenna.

I don’t know what else to say, so I’ll turn to my stash of quotes and poetry to end this post.

Lawrence Binyon wrote a poem called The Fallen for the British soldiers who gave their all in the Great War. I have adapted it slightly:

He shall not grow old

As those who are left grow old.

Age shall not weary him,

Nor the years condemn

At the going down of the sun

And in the morning

We will remember him

David Harkins wrote these words:

“You can shed tears that he is gone, or you can smile because he has lived…”

Dear David, I am both smiling and shedding tears. I hope there is a big bookstore in Heaven, where you can guide the other angels to books they will like, and maybe even send spiritual encouragement to writers on earth who might need a little help in writing their books. Here’s a hint – me :-)You can have long discussions with all the writers you’ve admired, those already there and those to come, and you will make Heaven a much brighter place to be. I will miss you always, and whenever I look at my Tigger doll, I will think of you.  All of us will do our best to support and comfort your beloved McKenna and your other loved ones, and we will shamelessly spoil Jack, who must be wondering where you are. Goodbye, my friend, you will be greatly missed. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

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In my last post, I mentioned my granddaughters, remembering them as babies rolling in the bluebonnets. I also mentioned Comanche, and posted part of my novel in process. That made me think of writers I have met, like Kinky Friedman, who has a small cameo in the book, and Earl Staggs, because he is a great friend of my dear friend Kaye B., and Jeff Cohen, who I first “met” online because of our mutual interest in autism, who writes some of the funniest mysteries around, and Chris Grabenstein because he writes a series about two wonderful characters who protect a small town on the Jersey shore, as well as a darker series about an FBI agent and another series for kids, and I happen to have pictures of all of them on my latest photo cd – I HATE to delete my special photos. So this seemed a good time to post some of those photos. Here goes.

Amber of the Jungle

Amber of the Jungle

Autumn the Hilarious

Autumn the Hilarious

Earl Darlin' and me

Earl Darlin' and me

Chris Grabenstein and me again

Chris Grabenstein and me again

Jeff Cohen and still me

Jeff Cohen and still me

The Next Governor of Texas

The Next Governor of Texas

Kinky Friedman and me in a choke hold - but he really does like me

Kinky Friedman and me in a choke hold - but he really does like me

Kinky's Right- or is it Left?-Hand man Jeff Shelby

Kinky's Right- or is it Left?-Hand man Jeff Shelby

Comanche County Courthouse

Comanche County Courthouse

Saloon where John Wesley Hardin shot the sheriff of Brown County, but he did not shot the deputy

Saloon where John Wesley Hardin shot the sheriff of Brown County, but he did not shoot the deputy

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Nothing is inevitable, as they say, except death and taxes. We all pay our taxes to support our democratic government, right? Well, apparently everyone may get taxed, but if you’re high enough above the huddled masses you may get away with not paying them – unless you get picked for a top government post.

Enough of politics, what I really came here to talk about is the one part of life that IS inevitable – death comes to us all. One drawback to getting older is that many of our friends and loved ones, as Kinky Friedman so poetically puts it, start “stepping on a rainbow.” I’m not for sure about what happens to them after that, but I’d like to think they go to a very nice place and reunite with everyone they’ve ever loved, including their dogs and cats and other assorted pets, except snakes. I HATE snakes. And all the pain and all the regret and all the unfinished business they had on earth will be forgotten.

Why this gloomy topic, you ask? Let me tell you — In the last 2 months I lost two people who were very dear to me, and I’ve been wondering where they are now and if they’re okay. They were two very different people, but they were both part of my family – one by birth and one by choice.

I met Dennis Lachappelle almost 20 years ago in an Indian restaurant in NYC. A group of people who were mostly strangers to each other had gone to Europe with Arlo Guthrie, who wanted to avoid the hype and commercialism of the 20th anniversary of Woodstock, and we were having a reunion at Arlo’s Thanksgiving show at Carnegie Hall. Arlo treated us all to dinner after the show, and I saw Dennis sitting by himself, looking kinda lonely and shy. That’s the last time I’d ever think of him as shy. He was Arlo’s bus driver for many years, and he and some of the people from the trip and people we met later at Arlo gigs truly did become family – complete with feuds and fusses like all families, but with lots of love too. At one of Arlo’s October concerts at the old church in Great Barrington, he said that a lot of people in the audience had started out coming to the concerts to see him, but now we came to see each other and he was secondary to our get togethers. He was right.

Dennis was a part of our family, even after he stopped driving the big red bus and started working for the state, driving snowplows in the winter. He always had a big smile and a bear hug for us; he rarely got angry, and when he did, he exploded for a brief moment, then got over it in an even briefer moment. He’d always wanted a family, and children, and he finally got that wish a few years ago when Deb “Fitzi” Fitzgerald came into his life. They were married at the old church last summer, with Arlo performing the ceremony. It should have been the beginning of a beautiful life – they should have had many more years together – but one evening in early December, after driving the snowplow almost 24/7 for days, he called his boss and said he wasn’t feeling too well. He never made it home – a co-worker found his truck at the side of the road, and called for an ambulance. Dennis died in the hospital, his big heart worn out trying to help others. He was that kind of guy.

Mary Hart, my first cousin, was a gentle soul, quiet but determined and resourceful. Her mother was many years older than mine, and she was 13 years older then me, so I didn’t know her as well as the cousins more my age, but when I started getting interested in our family genealogy she was right there to offer me all the help I could ask for. She’d worked in big cities, Dallas & Houston, until they just got too big for her, and she returned to our hometown, Comanche, Texas. She started helping out at the library, and before too long she had become a vital member of the staff. About a year ago, after feeling bad for a long time – she never liked to make a fuss – she went to the doctor and found out she had advanced lung cancer – no, she wasn’t a smoker. She called her brother to get her house ready to sell, put all her affairs in order- that was easy, she was always orderly, and checked into the hospital. She went into hospice care a few months later. When we visited her, she was matter of fact, upbeat, ready to go, and made us promise there would be no funeral, no memorial service, no hoopla after she was gone.

I’ve become friends with the Comanche librarian, Margaret Waring, who loved Mary like a sister. She said Mary left a note for her friends and family that said:

“Message from Mary: I love you all, AND NOW I FLY!”

When I started this post, I didn’t realize I might be closer to taking flight than I’d thought I was. My doctor had some tests run, and it seems I have a heart problem. It’s something that can be managed and treated without any drastic measures, but still …

Songs about flying:

I’ll fly away

Don Conoscenti – go to the right side & click on The Other Side:

http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=16775309

Poems about flying:

High Flight

By Pilot Officer John G. Magee Jr.

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings …

Goodbye, dear Dennis, sweet Mary, I hope you are flying high now. As Arlo Guthrie’s song goes, My old friend, I’ll see you again … now you’re just around the bend, my old friend

And I will see all those dear to me … when it’s time for me to take wing and join them

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Watching Gustav

As I was getting ready for work this morning, the weatherperson on Channel 11 said “we’re watching Gustav.” The hurricane season is heating up, and every week or two we’re watching some tropical storm or other, hoping it will just fizzle out before it gets to us. We’ve been lucky since the memorable season of 2005, when Katrina and its aftereffects messed up New Orleans and sent Houston 250,000 new citizens, and her sister Rita a few weeks later sent our area into a tizzy. Will we be lucky this season? We’re watching Gustav, just as we watched Eduard a couple of weeks ago. I still have my hurricane supplies of batteries and bottled water, canned tuna and beans, from that non-event.

There was a time when I loved hurricane season. My dad was in the Navy, and hurricanes were just part of our lives, from Key West to Charleston to Norfolk.  My siblings and I always thought it was a fine adventure, a time when Mother cooked up most of the food in the refrigerator, packed the freezer with ice, and got out the kerosene lamps.  Our  most exciting  storm  knocked a tree into our roof.  My grandparents were visiting, and I was sure they  were  having a great adventure too.  Our grownups must have been  excellent at hiding their fears, because the kids were never scared.

My dad retired and we moved to hurricane-less Dallas.  I grew up, went to college in high and dry Lubbock, and married. My husband was in the Army, and my first son was born at Ft. Eustis, near the Chesapeake Bay, during Hurricane Christine.  I watched it from my hospital window, not afraid, but not as excited as I was in my youthful innocence.  Damage was done, and people’s lives were disrupted.

I’ve been in Houston since 1974, and weathered many hurricanes and tropical storms. The worst damage we’ve had came from a mere tropical storm, Allison.  She hung around and dumped vast quantities of rain over the city.  The medical center was hit hard, and valuable lessons were learned.  One big one – don’t put your emergency generators in the basement!

The freeways were under water, 18-wheelers floating like toys in a bathtub.  Wasn’t that a storm!  Then came Katrina. Houstonians watched our neighbors suffer, and rallied to their aid, filling the Astrodome – which was nice and dry, cool, and clean, but still not home – and other shelters, filling warehouses with clothes and supplies.  Lessons were learned then too – if you’re in a danger zone, get out if you can.  Also, you can’t depend on your government to help you … We were barely done with Katrina when Rita reared her ugly and dangerous head.  She was a monster, quickly becoming a category 5, and heading straight for the Texas coast, vulnerable Galveston Island, and Houston, 50 miles inland.  What we didn’t learn from the other storms is – don’t panic, use some common sense.  If you’re in the city, 50 miles inland, as I said, let the folks on the island and immediate coast get out of harm’s way before you take to the very few highways and byways north or west.

I was watching Rita’s progress, starting Monday.  On Tuesday, non-essential staff  members were  released from work to prepare for the Big One.  I started  packing essentials, planning to go to my parents’ home in Dallas on Thursday.  By Wednesday, the roads were already jammed, and I was re-thinking that plan.  My parents were worried, but I said I’d rather wait until the roads cleared some.  They never did. You say it on tv, people sitting for hours in 100 degree heat, no water or food, no restrooms, no gas.  People got sick, and some died.  I let my friends & family know I would be sitting this one out.  My friend Judy in Connecticut said “can’t you take the train?” I had to laugh – we don’t do trains down south.

I was busy, busy busy the next couple of days, trying to figure out what was most precious so I could protect it.  Photos, mementos, my first edition signed copies of Kinky Friedman’s books … I figured the roof might come off, so I carried things downstairs. Then I considered the likely flooding, and carried it back upstairs. Then I thought, what the hell, I’ll put what I can on the stairs, put Kinky in a plastic water-tight container, and hope for the best.

As Rita drew nearer, she was downgraded to a 4. I talked to my dad, said we’d been through lots of storms like that safely, hadn’t we, and he said yes we had.  I sat up most of the night, watching the tree outside my window swaying in the wind, and by morning it was all over.

Now we’re watching Gustav. I think Kinky is still in that tote, but I better check.

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Shirley & the Man Who should be the Gov.Kinky & Shirley

Kinky Friedman and Shirley Wetzel somewhere in the Texas Hill Country.

Several years ago I came across the website for Kinky Friedman. http://www.kinkyfriedman.com/ He’d gone from being a successful, if controversial singer in the 1970’s (Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys), to a successful mystery novelist. “Get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in the bed” was a favorite Kinky song for my husband shortly before he became my ex-husband. I’m not saying the two were connected, but I’m not saying they weren’t, either. Kinky won the Male Chauvinist of the Year award for that one. I forgave him, partly because I love his mysteries. I told him this story the first time I met him, and he gave me this sage wisdom: “When the horse dies, get off.” Kinky had a website with t-shirts for sale, and I ordered something from the lady who was then in charge of the fan club, Cousin Nancy Parker. She’s not my real cousin, but she feels like kin … I sent her an e-mail and mentioned that it must be great to live in a place named Utopia, Texas. She wrote right back, and we started up an e-friendship. She said I should come on out and visit with her, and I did. I got to meet Kinky and visit the house he lives in on his family’s ranch. Back then, Nancy and her beau Tony Simons had a few dogs and cats. Some were theirs and some were Kinky’s – he had, and has, a habit of picking up strays and bringing them home, but since he was often on the road he dropped them off with Nancy. Time went by, and the critter population at the Parker-Simon hacienda was growing by leaps and bounds. KF decided to make it official, and the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch was born. http://www.utopiarescue.com/

Nancy and Tony are salt-of-the earth, wonderful, fine, outstanding human beings. Tony’s on the quiet side, and that’s good because Nancy hardly ever stops talking :-) If you’re ever in the Texas Hill Country area, give them a call, and they’ll invite you out to visit with them and send you home with a dog, or two, a cat, pot-belly pig, turkey, donkey, or no telling what else.

Here’s Nancy at her beloved Yoda’s grave.  Note the Eternal Squirrel

Nancy at Yoda's grave, with Eternal Squirrel

Nancy at Yoda's grave, with Eternal Squirrel

Shirley & Eternal Squirrel, Utopia

Shirley & Eternal Squirrel, Utopia

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