Monday, May 30, 2016

Every Memorial Day since the advent of social media, I am struck by the confusion between Veteran’s Day, created to honor all of those who served & still serve, & Memorial Day, created to honor all those who lost their lives fighting in the U.S. Military.

Memorial Day began as “Decoration Day” after the end of the Civil War, to honor those who died in the nation’s internal conflict. 

Officially proclaimed on 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11. “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed. *

The date of Decoration Day, as Logan called it, was chosen because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular battle.

Southern states were not impressed & refused to participate, each state choosing its own special days to commemorate the fallen of those who lost the rebellion.

It was not until 1971 that “Memorial Day” became a national holiday under an act of Congress.

This day is about remembering the great cost of war, on all sides, in human lives & in the lives of those whose loved ones died.  It is about not forgetting that price & honoring those who paid it.

In families all across our country, there are generations who served & died.  It is those we remember today, those we thank & honor.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

About Forestry Supplies, GOP Surveys, Pink Hard Hats & my Friend Kim’s Birthday

Often I receive mail that makes no sense to me.  A magazine about bass fishing for my eldest son, who has not shared this address in years & as far as I know, has no interest in fishing for bass.  “Wired” magazine made more sense for my techno guru son.  “GQ” made about as much sense as bass fishing.

The most difficult for my Liberal bent have been the  missives from the Republican party.  Including a survey during this election from the RNC. 

Years ago, a much loved & admired young friend not only sent me a two year subscription to the National Review, but filled out paperwork in my name & donated to the Republican National Committee.

Little did my young friend know that William F. Buckley was a secret pleasure of mine, for the pure joy of his command of the English language & its nuances.  The RNC less so.

After months of phone calls & a myriad of requests to both the Fort Bend County Republican Party & the RNC, I thought I was finally removed from their mailing lists.
Until the survey.

But that is not what sparked this particular post.  It was today’s inexplicable catalogue from Forestry Supplies Spring Sales & New Products Specials.  Addressed to me.

I tried to decipher what I could have done to prompt Forestry Supplies to send me their spring catalog.  I have no need for increment borers, aerosol boundary paint, dibble bars, log grabbers, duckbill earth anchors or chain & bar oil.

The “rite in the rain” mechanical pencils appealed to me, but it has been decades since I felt the compulsion to write in the rain.  While outdoors, that is.

Then I turned the page of the catalog & spotted the hard hats – orange, yellow, royal blue, navy blue & white.

And I remembered the pink hard hat & slip on steel toed boots stored in a tote upstairs.

Both of which I wore in shipyards & walking through rigs under refurbishment.

Which, I realize, after writing over 300 words, is what led me think about Kim & her birthday.

I first met Kim as the CFO of a rig management company my employers, the owners of the rig being refurbished, hired to manage the refurbishment.  I was the assistant controller & Kim represented our most important contractor.  

Our positions & our companies’ interests often set us at odds against one another.   I represented the source of the project funding & too often Kim had to represent an opposing interest.

But she always handled each situation with grace & discretion & well thought analysis.  

My superiors were often outrageously demanding & too often encouraged me to follow their lead.  There were too many times when I went to Kim & demanded that she produce something that I knew she could not possibly guarantee.

To Kim’s credit, she never lost her poise or composure or her center of gravity.
And most often, delivered.

More importantly, & this is the center of this post, Kim & I became adversarial friends.  
And over the time of the doomed project, friends.  

Kim listened & gave me feedback I could not obtain from my own supervisor, who was consumed by building her dream $450,000 house.  Or her next vacation or plans for her family’s next holiday.  Or pictures of her children from the last holiday.

Kim came to see me when I was in the hospital (although I was still asleep) & left a lovely, thoughtful gift.  Kim sent flowers to my brother’s memorial service – casa blanca lilies with bear grass, my favorite.

We shared many lunches & many hours of talking things out.

The doomed project that brought us together ended up in bankruptcy & distanced us as law suits & court orders dominated my landscape.

But I found Kim on Facebook & I have been following her & her beautiful family for years.  When I first met Kim, she had two very young children, Ivan & Laila.  

Ivan is growing into the same handsome man as his father.  Laila is destined to be a beauty. Their two little sisters will no doubt become beauties like their Madre & sister.

I do not always like the woman I was during those pink hard hat & slip on steel toed shoes period.  I try to let her be, to forgive her, to let it go.

But I do like are the remnants I was able to salvage from that doomed project.  From that life.

Kim is more than a remnant.  She is a treasure I managed to reclaim.

Happy Birthday, Kim.  With love, Jaki Jean.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sometimes looking to the past does not bring resolution . . .

When I was not quite twenty, I got married.  To a man who was, like me, a virgin, a Democrat, a lover of ballet & the theatre & old black & white movies.  He also loved to grow mushrooms & gardening & camping (I did not share his affection for camping.)  

And he had a hairy chest.

I have always been a sucker for a hairy chest.

He was a graduate of the University of Texas (a finance major) who believed that UT gave one a liberal education, Texas A&M gave one a conservative education & the University of Houston was an amazing happy median between the two.

Our courtship & engagement were all too brief, & ill advised.  Even then, there were warning signs that would have caused an older & more experienced Jaki Jean to flee for self protection.

His mother, who was, in her way, an amazing survivor of a difficult childhood, called me “Peggy” – his ex-girlfriend’s name.  For a long time.  I feared she would call me Peggy at the wedding.  His parents were older – married older, waiting seven years for their first son & seven more for my husband.  They were already retired, their lives revolving around golf & bridge & Sunday brunch at the Country Club & their granddaughter. 

And for my mother-in-law, around her youngest son.

The warning signs that the too young to get married Jaki Jean did not decipher began to manifest themselves.  I choose not to relate the details – I believe my ex-husband has children & I think the details would hurt them if they ran across this post.

For me, those details made our marriage unsustainable.  So I called my friend Susie Morley, who was living in Austin & she handed the phone to Elizabeth Bacon, her friend & co-worker, who told me she would call her lawyer mother Mary Bacon to assist me in getting a low cost, uncontested divorce.

Mary Bacon, who later became a judge, handled my divorce for $250.00. 

Yesterday, frustrated by the elections & Brussels & all the terrorist attacks the media does not report, I ran across an old journal from my five year marriage.

Every Christmas, my husband would give me a Kahlil Gibran journal, blank pages with quotes from Gibran.  I picked one up out of a box & did not recognize the young Jaki Jean who wrote about a man she loved.  Planning a meal with candles.

So, I goggled my ex. 

He died recently at 65. 

He was four years older & would be 66 at the end of June (he was born a few minutes after  midnight on June 30, but his mother insisted the doctor backdate the birth certificate so that she could have a June baby.)

At first I did not know how I should feel about his death.

But 65 is too young to die. 

The failure of our marriage molded my relationships for the next few decades.  As my friend & lover Philippe once remarked:  “Your need to be free is inherent in your being.”

Philippe may have been on target – but I think my need was molded by the unsustainable problems in my marriage.  I was never again willing to take that leap. 

And there were offers.

Of course, as Kristofferson wrote for Janis Joplin:  “Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose / Nothin', don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free.”

It is difficult for me to mourn for him – in the sense that I mourned over the years for the man I thought I married..  I mourn for anyone who dies so young.  I mourn for his children & his family & friends.  I mourn for the young Jaki Jean who would have been devastated.

I find no resolution, experienced no closure.  Just incredible sadness.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Jaki Jean & Jean & Grandma Luna & Burning Books

This evening, as Jean & I watched Charlie Rose interview Marley Davis, the amazing 11 year old who collected over 1,000 books in which black girls were the main characters, I told Jean a story.

I told her how my high school friend Rachel Halperin introduced me to Andres & Amy Dominquez & how Andres introduced me to the writer, Angela Cervantes.

As I told Jean what I knew about Angela’s story, how a young Angela read books under the covers at night using a flashlight, I confessed that I did the same.

After I explained that Angela writes books designed for middle school readers, featuring Latina characters who were so absent from the books available to her in her childhood, I told Jean about “Gaby, Lost & Found,” & Angela’s new book, “Allie, First at Last.”

Jean asked Why didn’t you tell us?  About reading under the blanket?

As I tried to remember why, I faltered.  What did a young Jaki Jean think my parents Jack & Jean were going to do if they caught me?

In retrospect, Jack & Jean never would have caught me reading under the covers with a flashlight.  They never caught me leaving my bedroom at midnight to watch “Dr. Who” & they never caught me leaving the house before daylight, climb the stone fence, cross the desert & climb a hill to watch the sun rise over the mountains.

So I told Jean what I thought a younger Jaki Jean felt.

Because it was after my bedtime.  And there were rules about bedtime.  Because I did not want to stop reading under the covers.  Because I imagined it was forbidden & sometimes the forbidden is enticing. 

Looking back, I understand that a  younger Jaki Jean did not know how to tell Jack & Jean that she required more reading time.

Jean listened & then replied:

My mother once burned a book.

For a moment, I was stunned.  Not the same mother who read Jean “Pollyanna” or took her to the library.  I wondered what triggered this memory.  Had Jean been caught reading under the covers?

Was this memory triggered by watching The Book Thief (a fine book, a poor film adaptation) about a little girl who stole books from the piles burned by the Nazis?

So I asked Jean to tell me the story.

Jean told me that her brother Mansel & his first wife Pearl came to visit from their home in Australia.  Pearl left a book in the house on the farm when she & Mansel departed.

My grandmother Luna Sims burned that book.  Because, Jean tells me, Luna said it was unfit for Jean or anyone to read.

At eighty, Jean no longer remembers the title of the book.

But I went to the school library & checked it out & read it. Without my mother knowing.

Naturally, I asked Jean what she thought Luna found so offensive, and she said:

There were married characters having affairs.  Very mild in comparison to what we read today.

My mother Jean never forbid or burned a book.  She did censor me from watching certain horror movies until she came to realize that what I imagined from listening to my uncensored friends who watched the movies was worse that the reality.

Jean did, however, keep certain books on a high shelf in the bedroom closet she shared with my father Jack.  It was there that I discovered Harold Robbins novels & David R. Reuben M.D.’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex: But Were Afraid to Ask.”

I told Jean, after she relayed the story of how she kept reading the book Luna burned from her mother, that it is no wonder I am a bit of a rebel.  

And she smiled.

Which is about as fine as it gets, when your eighty year old mother smiles at the rebel she helped create.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Jaki Jean and the 63° Egg

On the 14th of February, my Omega Son Sam & his girlfriend, the lovely Veronica, took Veronica’s grandmother Carolyn & myself to brunch for Valentine’s Day. 

Sam & Veronica are regular inner looper brunchers.  To understand what that means, you have to know Houston or have lived here.  There is a contingency of people who insist on living “inside the loop” or inside Highway 610 in the inner city areas surrounding downtown.  This has been true as long as I have lived here & no doubt much longer.

Even as a teenager, I gravitated toward those areas – Montrose, the Heights, the Museum District, the Binz, West University, the East End.  My friends & I used to assess our peers strength of character & coolness by whether or not they liked eating at The Hobbit Hole at its original location on Shepherd.  In the day when the kitchen was vegetarian & dominated by yogis from a local community.  I learned to drink Shiner beer at the Hobbit Hole.  Shiner, dark & light, & wine were the only cocktails served back in that day.

When I was divorced, I spent one year in an efficiency apartment outside the loop until  my friend Marguerite Pulley rescued me & introduced me to her friend John Chambless, who owned several rental properties in Montrose
My life as a single, childless adult was spent inside the loop, loving the ambiance & activity of Montrose & the inner city.   Although all of the inner city areas I loved in my youth have succumbed to gentrification & trends, & favorite pockets of neighborhoods have lost much of the charm of structures built to endure time, the ambiance & activity remain. 

As does the omniscient problem of too many cars with too little available parking.

Joining my son Sam & Veronica & Veronica’s grandmother for brunch was a return to what I feel are my Houston roots.  It pleases me in a way I don’t quite understand that Sam is firmly embedded in the inner city I love.  Sam’s apartment is in a quadraplex across from the Menil Museum & Rothko Chapel.  A location I envy.

Sam & Veronica took us to Common Bond CafĂ© & Bakery for brunch.  These two inner looper brunchers have explored every brunch in the inner city & have very informed ideas about what works & what does not work.  Since I have experienced brunch with them before, I felt confident in their choice of Common Bond.

We stood in line just long enough to peruse the menu & make our choices.  An interesting menu that left me nervous.  Except for a decadent French toast dish, most of the major main dishes were dominated by meat.

Before you give your order, you pass an amazing collection of breads & rolls & the largest, most decadent croissants & pastries you have ever encountered.    Then you walk past the desserts.

I am not a major carnivore – although two of my favorite food memories involve beef tender & filet mignon.  When Sam asked me what I wanted, I told him I was leaning toward the yogurt & berry & homemade jam parfait.  I did not mention that I really wanted one of those giant chocolate croissants.

As we discussed the menu & viewed the pastries, Veronica’s grandmother Carolyn asked about the 63° egg.

Apparently, Veronica explained, a 63° egg is supposed to be the perfect temperature at which to cook a perfect egg.

Sam insisted that I order something more substantial, that I not worry about the price because it was his treat.  I wasn’t worried about the price – I had that covered.  

But I ordered a brunch item with a 63° egg.  I had to know if it was the perfect egg.
Beef & grits:  hereford beef, burgundy wine, cheesy gristmill grits, pearl onions, mushrooms, 63° egg

We did order one of those giant chocolate croissants & a hazelnut chocolate croissant to share.  Those, & the selection of daily breads – were divine.

All of our entrees arrived in oversized bowls – Sam & Carolyn ordered the decadent French toast & both Veronica & I had the beef & grits.

In my bowl were grits seeping with the beef broth, tender beef, pearl onions & mushrooms & the most beautiful poached egg I have ever seen.

I remarked that I was not sure I wanted to eat it – it was just too lovely.

I did eat it – after sampling the best grits I have ever encountered, tender beef, fragrant mushrooms & sweet little onions.  I ate the 63° egg & it was magnificent.

Since my return from this experience, I have spent too many hours researching & learning about the 63° egg.  And planning how to replicate it.

I have a feeling that the 63° egg is not the last gift my son Sam & Veronica will give me.

PS:  There are fabulous macaroons!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

About last night on Dorrance Lane in Meadows Place

Last night, there was a disruption in the force on our block of Dorrance Lane in Meadows Place, Texas.

A major disruption.  Not music played too loud too late or cars driving too fast between two stop signs distanced by .02 miles, firecrackers for days at New Year’s, or mailed delivered to the wrong house or kids acting out up the bus stop.

Last night, my dear friend Muriel (who checks in on my mother Jean & me every day) called after our usual “Muriel on the way home” from work call to tell me that there were three people dead in a house on our block of Dorrance Lane.  And while on the phone, my brother interrupted to tell me the police & media were outside. 

The media presence was overwhelming.  People were gathered in the streets.  Bits & pieces of information trickled out from bystanders who moved closer to the crime scene tape, bits & pieces posted on social media, bits & pieces from local media outlets.

One young man, two women, all apparently related, dead.  Two small children, unharmed.

My closest neighbors, many of whom I have known since I was seventeen, gathered, along with what I call the “young kids on our block of Dorrance Lane” in my next door neighbor’s driveway. 

Gathered in our collective grief & horror & sympathy for the family facing this tragedy.

The media fiasco continued for what seemed like forever.  I wondered about what those sweet young new residents on our block of Dorrance Lane were explaining to their little ones.

This morning, the day after, local media reports were sporadic & varied.  Almost all repeats of what they had filmed last night. 

I did not know this particular family personally.  I have seen different family members coming & going, hanging out in the front yard, picking up the mail.

So I have no clue as to their individual & collective stories or what each of them was facing or why murder & suicide seemed an option for one of the family members.

But recent reports today indicate that murder / suicide is what happened.  A mother apparently killed her daughter-in-law & teenage son & then shot herself.

What I do know is a son & father of the two young children, came home to find his mother, wife, & brother dead.

What grief that poor soul must have felt.  And still feels.

A young reporter, by the name of Emily Foxhall, from the Houston Chronicle rang my doorbell this afternoon.

And asked if I was willing to talk about last night’s events.  I explained that I knew nothing other than what was in the media, that I did not know the family.

I told her I did not hear sirens, that I learned about the tragedy from a friend in North Houston & talking to me would not give her much information for an article.

Emily Foxhall tried a different track, & asked me about Meadows Place, the hidden little city nestled along the borders of Houston, Stafford & Sugar Land.  She reeled me in, pointing out that Meadows Place is rather unique.

I had to admire that kind of reeling.

So I told her what I know about this little square mile community – that neighbors watch out for one another & for neighbor’s children.   She asked me how long I had lived in MP & I told her that my parents Jack & Jean bought this house on Dorrance Lane in 1971. 

I told her that on our block of Dorrance, there are six or seven original families or their descendants that still live here.   I told her that there were many current residents, like me, who returned to this little square mile to raise our children.

And I explained that living in Meadows Place is very much like living in a 2016 version of Mayberry.  People may not know you by name, but they know your children & your vehicles & sometimes your routine. 

That we have an awesome police force, a fabulous elementary school & that when tragedy strikes, this community comes together.

What I did not explain to Emily Foxhall of the Houston Chronicle was how last night changed my perception of myself & my relationship with a neighborhood & home I too often take for granted.  

That is another blog.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

On Roots & Treetops & Powers that Move

There is a power that moves 
in such submission through the world: 
groping in roots, and growing thick in trunks, 
and in treetops, like a rising of the dead.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke
(Image: Vincent van Gogh - Tree Roots and Trunks)

When I saw this post from The Bloomsbury Review via Charter for Compassion (I really need to research them), one word of Rilke’s quote leaped out at me in conjunction with Van Gogh’s rendition Tree Roots and Trunks.


Submission is not a word or concept I link with Vincent.

I do not see submission in Tree Roots and Trunks.  I see images of beings reaching with the support of green growth & hope reaching toward the light.
I see roots growing thick in trucks & treetops still reaching, fighting toward the light. 

I see a struggle to survive.  I hope that struggle has the power to move toward change.

I see hope.  I see a power in roots & trunks & treetops rising not from the dead, but from the hope & strength of reaching toward the light & maintaining position.

Which I pray fervently is still alive.