Getting home for Christmas 2011

Peggy's house is crammed full of great stuff ... just way to much for her to deal with.

Just as Steve and I thought we drove without weather-related troubles from Denton to Abilene Two years previous, the 18-hour blizzard caused utter turmoil. Celebrating Christmas at my mom’s with most of immediate family was coming together.

My mom, agonizing over a house full (to the rafters) of acquisitions and artifacts gleaned from re-sale shops. garage sales and small-town antique malls, did not desire gifts this Yuletide. She had spent the previous year forcing herself to divest and disperse the inventory (yes, entering her house reminds one of a well stocked movie prop/costume warehouse.)

I was glad to oblige. I did make a Meyer Lemon Olive Oil cake to share with family during the holiday feast and after-glow.

Arriving at the alley-side carport, I headed to the backdoor with cake and cane – I now rely on a walking stick most of the time. Steve Peggy met us at the door, happy we made itwithout incident. (I call her Peggy as she is my blended family mom, not my biological mom) and found our way to the den past the same floor-to-ceiling stockpiles of stuff we had seen in October. Stuff in and above shelves, cabinets – stuff nailed to walls and spilling out of bedrooms converted to over-sized closets. Peggy’s project had obviously stalled.

“This is Christmas,” I thought. “Not the time to critique …” We relaxed around the dining room table, shoving boxes, papers, newspapers,and pens just enough to make space for a plate of barbecue and the usual Christmas goodies.

Offering to help her with an initial purging of her treasures, Peggy let us in on the level of her distress.

“I am the only one who can do it,” she said as she scanned over the clutter before us. “I want to make sure things get to the right family members and …” her words faded into silence.

So we sat with her, munching snacks and talking – the entryway grandfather clock chiming half-hour, hour – 10 p.m., 11 – and Peggy slowly went through a stack of paperwork that had grown in front of her for months.

Our presence was her Christmas present I realized.

When the clock chimed 1 a.m., Peggy had cleared the dining room table, and we straightened the room for the Christmas Day gathering planned for the next afternoon. (Although Peggy didn’t know she was hosting the clan until her daughter-in-law Carol called her just before we arrived. Surprise!)

“This has really helped,” she said with relief. “I just needed you to be here while I did it.”

Carol kept calling Robert  – from Christmas Eve night through Christmas morning – to make sure he, Tammy and Major would be in by 3 p.m. She’s a great sister-in-law, but she has yet to admit coordinating family events – especially Christmas dinner – cannot be controlled despite multiple phone calls to Muleshoe when that area has been sideswiped by a snow storm (uh, blizzard).

Tammy had made it from hers and Robert’s place in Scottsdale, Arizona in to her mom’s place Muleshoe without much problem. The snow storm was just a gleam in the TV weather guy’s eye when she was on the road.

But Robert had to pick up his son, Major, in Cortez, Colorado. By the time the boys left for a circuitous drive to the small West Texas meeting place, cold, snowy clouds loomed large, then dropped white stuff – a lot of white stuff. East of Albuquerque, our stalwart Christmas travelers had to find one of the few rooms left at Moriarty Inn. I know Robert would have plowed through the blizzard, but state troopers and the hotel association halted traffic until … well until they determined the roads could – or would – open.

I love my brother Robert, but he can be a curmudgeon – what am I saying? He is the curmudgeon. I’m sure he paced and fumed in that lovely motel room until he and Major – now a very tall and athletic 17 years old – succeeded in reaching Texas soil.

Amazingly Robert, Tammy and Major got to Peggy’s before 3. The family gathered and hugged and talked and ate, enjoying a few precious hours together, ending around the  smal-but-festive tree. Sacks and packages were brought in from various vehicles, paper ripped, ribbons flew, as 12 people oohed and aah-ed over gifts and gimme’s.

Robert, Mr. Humbug himself, gave the most appreciated gifts (amazing). As an international commercial pilot for Air Southern, flying 747 cargo jets to China, Ethiopia, and who knows where, he had bought – for very little money – really great cashmere scarves, Ethiopian coffee – for us women-folk and  just because he and Tammy live so close to Mexico, Cuban rum for Steve and brother David from across the border. Cool and way cool.

And the 2011 Christmas commute, whether from the snow banks of a wintry New Mexico, or the small town of Tuscola, ended happily.

Neither rain, snow, fog nor gloom of night can keep the Edwards-Lackey family from their appointed Christmas at the homeplace.

The annual Texas Christmas Commute – 2012

My mom called a couple of days before Christmas this year to relay the latest West Texas weather forecast – snow. Nonplussed, I had already seen weather predictions. Not a problem – no big deal – nothing to worry about … and yet …

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” still rings through my head remembering Denton on Christmas Eve 2009. We humans get ourselves into trouble over the silliest things …

Steve (my husband and fellow traveler) and I had stopped by Target to pick up last minute gifts before heading out on Interstate 35, Abilene bound. We scooted into the store dodging sloppy, wet snow. The weather seemed changeable with patchy low clouds and dapples of sunlight. No problem for the seasoned Texas road warrior.

Not 30 minutes later, as we trundled our holiday packages to a frosty, gray store front – a panorama of wintery wonder – we recoiled as minus-30 windchills and stinging sleet assaulted our faces and hands. “If you don’t like the weather,” the saying goes, “wait a minute.” Or wait 18 hours.

Freezing snow-sleet mix plastered vehicles , shopping carts – even those big red ball thingies at the store entrance.

Quietly muttering the famous Star Wars quote, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” – I braved the final frigid steps to quickly secure the parcels in the trunk next to our suitcases.

Many other shoppers voiced similar reactions to a new and disappointing weather outlook – no – weather disaster. We all were heading to distant lands – Oklahoma City, Shreveport, Lubbock, Abilene. Holiday traffic slowed from clip to crawl as Christmas Eve morning ticked toward noon. The on-ramp at I-35 W – solidly crammed with semi’s, SUV’s and little silver Saturns (like ours) – crept into a long trail of Southbound snails already caked in re-frozen snow and road grime. The pace, as we soon discoved, was an excruceating 3 to 10 miles an hour. The first  15 minutes – we could still see University of North Texas stadium light poles. Soon we witnessed our first pick-up truck spin its wheels as it struggled up an incline. Road conditions slowly moved from bad to worse – but not as slowly as the once gleeful Christmas commuters.

Steve and I revelled in the opportunity to be together and, after stopping at a convenience store for Slim Jims, Spicy V-8 and pork rinds, for Steve, and a hot chocolate and coffee ( yes, I’m a two-fisted drinker) for me – we clammered back in the conga line of slip-sliders, free-wheelers and off-road Kamikaze’s.

If I had been at the wheel, we would have been back home by this time. But Steve, with his years of driving to oil rigs no matter what the conditions, driving the stalwart front-wheel-drive Ion, took charge of the icy asphalt – maneuvering past stalled or sliding trucks and sedans like a pro.

Cell phones kept us in contact with family in Abilene, but our overall progress turned bleak when brother David informed us Ranger Hill was closed.

No other challenge could have filled us with such dread or disappointment.

Ranger Hill … notorius on a good day … is a lovely piece of Interstate 20, snaking up and around mesas and hills. The 6% incline brings you to an elevation high enough to make your ears pop at least three times. One accident – minor or not – on this divided highway may shut down all lanes of traffic. With little wiggle room for emergency vecicles, and the remote location, this stretch gets closed rather than add death and destruction to the already anxious holiday trekkers.

We had been on the wintry road for two hours and had travelled all of 29 miles.

We looked for an exit and turn-around. Home is where we needed to be. But Steve and I knew with darkness falling, more vehicles losing traction  – some sliding down barrow ditches and open fields (and Steve having run out of pork rinds)  – our homeward journey would be just as long.

Actually longer, we soon found.

Spurs to other highways do not always lead back the way one has come. We faced a decptively hopeful road (FM 81) North to Decatur about 30 miles West of Denton.

The Fort Worth police officer – big and tough, but obiviously underdressed for such Arctic blasts – lumbered out of his patrol car and told us a truck had spun out and climbed a telephone pole up ahead. The wrecker was on its way, but nothing was getting by.

We rejoined the heavy metal masses straining under exhaustion, frustration and with clear way to safety.

After muddling through another treachorus mile, we turned the right way at the right time and happily headed home, passing new wrecks, abandoned or buried trucks.

Five hours,  a round trip of about 50 miles, later, a different task presented itself. We entered our warm house to find one of our cats – Silver – had died. She was very sick, and the end was expected.

The blizzard  lasted long enough to cause havoc, but Christmas morning – not 24 hours later – the sun shone, most of the snow was melting and after burying Silver in a very nice spot under the willow tree, we once again made our way to Abilene – roads clear, Ranger Hill open and family greeting us with love and cheer.

But what about this Christmas (2011) commute? Read on, McDuff.


This is the Thanksgiving that was

Sometime between greeting my mother-in-law, Pearl, at the front door, fresh her from her trek from
her cozy place in Fort Worth, and taking her to Wally-World that Wednesday evening, I decided to mentally shift my attitude to the merry, jolly, and surreal season of Thanksgiv-a-Christmas.

Is this really that important? Really?

Plans for Thursday underway, no undue pressure. Wednesday night plans – Pearl (Jewish MIL) and Steve (dear, sweet, anxious husband) relaxing, visiting and entering the NCIS-marathon abyss. (Pearl can’t get enough of the show.) Then I’d bake off some cornbread in anticipation of the awesome stuffing I would make after the turkey roasted for the prescribed 4 hours (I did thaw it sufficiently!)

But Pearl wanted to exchange the Wal-Mart slacks she bought for Celia (daughter No. 1 she would spend Christmas with – in Colorado – in a month) the last time she came to visit us. This priority purchase needed amending before her homeward departure on Saturday. (Oh, FYI, she’s staying until Saturday.)Steve and I counseled her on the folly of such a T-Day Eve forray, but to no avail.

The older Wal-Mart  across town (hopefully less crowded than the year-old store near us) is down the street from Home Depot, and of course, Steve needed something shelf brackets, I think, from the Big Orange Box … we trekked through rows empty of hardware hungry customers, yet crammed with pallettes, boxes and busy stockers. Then we traveled to the ominous asphalt expanse  – a crowded, chaotic demolition derby. This was Wal-Mart on a Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving. Where vehicles, shopping carts and humans collide in the name of the festive holiday spirit.

Steve is not a patient man. He wanted to park close to the entrance. So did the 2,379 souls he encountered. (I made up the figure for dramatic effect.) No physical harm came to anyone, nor damage to carts or cars, although my hubby threatened major mayhem from inside our Saturn as we meandered the parking aisles

“They’re pulling out!’ No, they’re parking.

“That space is open!” No, it’s a shopping cart corral.

Finally a space opened, we slid in. Steve, muttering terribly unkind passages, guided his “two girls” through shadowy figures and into the store.. Pearl couldn’t hear him – her hearing aids – were squealing in hi-definition.

We were in the store, yay.

Pearl went to Customer Service, Steve to electronics and I to Women’s Wear. Most of the harried shoppers were in Grocery. Yay, again.

McDonald’s – inside the store – clambered with Big Mac Attackers, mommies chased theirs kids no doubt hopped up on sugar and visions of X-Boxes on sale (yes, Black Friday was fast approaching) and frenetic folks seemed to reach warp speed, knocking past one another while searching for just the right jar of mince (whatever that is).

Cell phones saved us from a mad search for each other. Pearl called Steve, who saw me waving at Pearl, who didn’t see me waving her direction … the end was in view. Ready for frenzied sale searchers and last minutes pie bakers, check stands lit up and express aisles moved exiting customers rapidly through the gauntlet.

And at last we sprang through crowds of incoming shoppers, leaving the warm glow of the shopping Mecca – once again out side and maddening parking lot trumoil. Once more Steve steered past Kamikaze pedestrians and hunter-killer vehicles, finally escaping onto Loop 288 – homeward bound.

“That was scary!” Pearl exclaimed. “I wouldn’t have gone there if I had known it would be this bad.”

I envisioned old footage of the Pope kneeling and kissing the ground after descending from an airplane some sort of round-the-world trip. I thought of doing the same as we three climbed out of the car – lowering myself to the driveway, planting my lips on Terra Firma, while sending prayers to God for safely returning us home.

After a glass of wine, Pearl and Steve all nestled in the living room watching another NCIS episode, I scooted  to the kitchen, mixed a batch of cornbread batter, loading it into the baking dish and into the oven. The bubbling goodness of sweet, homespun aroma wafted through the house.

Soon we felt sleep coming on. With cornbread cooling, Gibbs, Ziva, et al, turned off, Wal-Mart Wednesday melted into soft slumber, and then

a frosty Thursday morning. Promise of turkey, cornbread stuffing, green bean casserole, pecan pie and football filled our thoughts. Thanks and praise for blessings of food and family – no sales, exchanges refunds, gift wrap or 15-minute parking zones until another day.

My Dad

Veterans Day was Friday and though most of my friends and relatives know of or are themselves veterans of military service, I focused this year on my dad’s service in the Navy.

I don’t know as much as I should about Thomas G. Edwards. Jr.’s active duty or reserve years, I his service to the US.

As soon as Daddy graduated from Rice University (having received his scholarship through the Naval ROTC) he obtained his commission and married my mom, Harriet Rose Minter. In a whirlwind of activities, the newly married couple traveled from Houston to San Diego in my grandparent’s car – as passengers. Grandpa Edwards was attending a medical convention in San Diego. Yes, Daddy and Momma’s honeymoon was a 1,300 mile trip to their new home – and Naval assignment with the “parents.”

Okay, this is leading to Daddy’s service. As a mechanical engineer, he served on the aircraft carrier, USS Kearsarge from 1954-1958 (or there about.)

I am fuzzy about the date, mainly because I wasn’t born until 1957. Daddy and Momma did reminisce about my visiting the ship with Momma during a family dinner in port. They said aircraft were taking off and landing during dinner. I made it clear with my very healthy lungs that I objected to the noise.

Daddy served as a JAG for enlisted men on board and in his professional capacity on the ship’s engines.  He served in the lull between the Korean and Viet Nam wars. He did not see combat as far as I know, yet he served with distinction and pride.

I am glad to have those memories of him and appreciate his military service.

USS Kearsarge

USS Kearsarge, a 27,100-ton Ticonderoga class aircraft carrier, was built at the New York Navy Yard. She was commissioned in March 1946 and spent her first year of service in training operations in the western Atlantic and Caribbean. During the later 1940s, Kearsarge made two trips to Europe, the first a summer 1947 midshipmen training cruise and the second a mid-1948 deployment to the Mediterranean Sea. In early 1950, the carrier was transferred to the west coast, where she decommissioned in June for extensive modernization work.

Recommissioned in February 1952, Kearsarge now had a stronger flight deck, new island and many other changes to her appearance and capabilities. She made a Korean War combat cruise in September 1952 – February 1953, during which time she was reclassified as an attack aircraft carrier and redesignated CVA-33. From mid-1953 to 1958, Kearsarge had regular tours of duty with the Seventh Fleet in the Far East. Her 1955 deployment included supporting the Nationalist Chinese evacuation of the Tachen Islands. The carrier was again modernized in 1956-57, receiving an angled flight deck and enclosed “hurricane” bow to better equip her to operate high-performance aircraft.

Kearsarge was assigned a new role in October 1958, becoming an antisubmarine warfare (ASW) support aircraft carrier, with the new designation CVS-33. In that capacity, she operated ASW fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters to protect the fleet against the threat of hostile underwater attack. Regular Seventh Fleet deployments continued through the late 1950s and the 1960s, including indirect involvement in the Vietnam Conflict. In 1962 and 1963, Kearsarge carried out a new mission, serving as recovery ship for the orbital flights of astronauts Walter Schirra and Gordon Cooper. Made redundant by the general fleet drawdown of the late 1960s and early 1970s, USS Kearsarge was decommissioned in February 1970. Following three years in the Reserve Fleet, she was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register in May 1973 and sold for scrapping in February 1974



Inspiration, assignments and successful art

Monday night at CCA, The Dirty Drawers gather to work from live models, honing their skills.

Other inspired art - but not mine.

I never know when a spark of interest or curiosity will strike, but I begin envisioning how I then will bring it to my art. Though

inspiration has led me to cobble together a series of mixed-media art based on purging a deep anger I harbored, to letting music transpose my joy of the music to fun and fresh takes on birds and nature, I have relied heavily on “assignments.”

Always ready to take on the challenge of jobs on deadlines and enjoying the worlds of publishing and  newspapers, I seemed destined to do the “Tarzan.” Swinging from assignment to assignment, I rarely looked ahead more than three or four “vines” or project steps. My worst tendency was to take on multiple projects at once. Overlapping deadlines, and major challenges in production and content caused me to bury my head further in the details and timelines, while attempting to avoid corporate intrigue. (The last issue was never-ending and stalled many projects that nonetheless was going to press.)

Assigned projects in the realm of “studio” or “gallery” art allowed me to soar and grow creatively. As a member of the Abilene-based Center for Contemporary Arts (many moons ago), I developed works on the themes established for member (group) shows. Having parameters and deadlines still offered my need for structure,

but I created out of delight. Setting my own standards for content and technique.

Traveling forward to present-day, I want to capture that same delight in my work, but have no underlying “assigned” project or task. (My thought is public school assignments and structure, also a major trend at the college level, programmed my sensibilities and motivation – yes, I’ll go so far as to say, regimented my creative process.)

Losing my job at Abilene Reporter-News to lay-offs and buy-outs, I lost my way as the paradigm of computer technology careened head-long into my training and familiar work ethic.

I learned how to use computers after I learned traditional graphic design; I learned much more about journalism and writing long after I earned a college degree. So, now my task is to  call on my 50+ years of experience to spark a personal Renaissance. Can’t wait to see how far I can go!

Excuse the dust

Henry Moore, Reclining Figure, 1951, Fitzwilli...

Image via Wikipedia

Setting up a blog takes a while. There are many features, appearance enhancements and basic content issues to slog through. Please excuse the dust as my blog is under construction.

When I begin a painting or drawing, a few steps into the process I become increasingly anxious, and frustrated. That’s the “stupid stage.”

Seems most creative (and creating) folks deal with it as a natural step in the creative process.

But the technology and software causes me further concern. Like any new software program, I am learning the system while attempting to reach the vibrant compelling image of my blog. This thing needs to look good while presenting the (hopefully) interesting content.

My hope is I am not the only writer/artist struggling with the technology. Yes, I have learned many operating systems and programs to design pages, edit and proofread content (the latter not my forte.) But this is my “painful-breaking-in” period.

Aunt Dolores

The summer of 1966 was a great time to be alive, until that summer. My mom packed up all four of us girls – me, Margaret, Elizabeth and Laura – and headed South with Grandma (Dorris Edwards) at the wheel. We were on a 550 mile trip from Abilene, Texas to Mercedes (a small Rio Grande Valley town between Harlingen and McAllen).

Daddy would drive down after his work week to meet us. Unfortunately the plans changed.

We didn’t make it.

Somewhere on the highway near Alice at a blinking-yellow-light  intersection, a gentleman in a pickup (?), ran his blinking red light and plowed into our car.

No, I don’t remember anything of the crash. Nor does my sister Margaret. She and I were the only two who survived the crash and subsequent fire.

I found out later that a gentleman from Mercedes pulled me and Margaret from the burning wreckage, but no one else made it. The two of us were transported to the nearest hospital – Corpus Christi. Then after two weeks Aunt Dolores (Edwards) appeared, had Margaret and I placed in a station wagon – on stretchers., and drove us to John Sealy Hospital in Galveston.

Dolores took charge and stayed in charge of our recovery time in Galveston where she, Uncle Robert (Daddy’s brother), and their kids, Mike, Barbara and Charles lived. Robert was doing his residency at the University of Texas Medical branch in both Galveston and Houston.

Through the next weeks and months Dolores made sure we had everything we needed. Then, when discharged, she enrolled me in a local private school, and every other Friday took me to Houston so I could be fitted with an artificial eye. When Margaret was discharged, Dolores put together a birthday party for her with all the trimmings. She also organized our Halloween costumes. (Uncle Robert carried Margaret , who was in a leg cast – as we all went Trick-or-Treating.)

I don’t know everything Dolores for us during that time in our lives. I can only guess. But I definitely appreciate her dedication during that life-changing time.

Daddy came to see us every other weekend until we were able to go home to Abilene. At Christmas Daddy bought a special gift for Dolores on behalf of us all … a mink stole from one of the best department stores in Abilene at the time – Minter’s.

We were back in Galveston for Christmas. Grandpa Edwards (Tom) came up from Mercedes. After the gift-giving and big holiday feast, Daddy, Robert and Grandpa traveled to Mercedes to personally thank the fellow who rescued us.

Dolores stayed in Galveston, managing the house full of kids while nursing a head cold. Awesome woman.

Early this morning, Dolores passed away after a three-year struggle with ALS. She is loved and respected by so many, having touched lives through her work as Nurse practitioner and medical missionary along side Robert.

Thank you, dear Dolores. I love you.

Hello world!

Okay, after slogging through the choosers, menus and settings, I am finally starting my blog. Why “Painting Fat” for the blog’s title, though?

Since I began studying art, and creating my own, I have noticed the different styles artists use to apply paint to their canvases. Each person approaches the easel differently. Some strike at the canvas, or paper with stong, slashes and hard edges. Some carefully render their image with thoughtful measure and precision.

The conservative painter will scrub pigment into the very weave of canvas, so that the effect is more stain than true color – artists call this “painting thin.”

The the artist who loads great, juicy blobs of lush color on the brush and applies it generously to the surface – that’s “painting fat.”

Sometimes I find it hard to boldly fill my painting. Sometimes it is the same with filling my life as I planned.

But the more I grab the pastel, the pencil, the paint or ink, the more I am likely to make a rich, lively work of art.

So, here I go, the latest work in progress … my aspiration is to write this blog creatively – and coherently -and paint fat.