Posts Tagged ‘America’

San Jacinto Reenactment: Sam Wins Again.

April 17, 2011

On April 21, 1836, the original Battle of Jacinto delivered Texas independent of Mexico in less than eighteen minutes. On April 16, 2011, on the 175th anniversary, Texas won again.

“Well, son,” said the obviously Hispanic father standing next to me at the reenactment battle’s end to his 8-9 year old son, “that one made it Houston 1 – Mexico 0.” Everyone enjoyed a good laugh. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the man left no scoring updates from more recent times.

Saturday’s celebration was not the commemoration of a racist Anglo/Hispanic division, which it really isn’t, but an honorable presentation of how the “Texian” residents of the Mexican Province of Texas rallied together in the early 19th century, Anglo and Hispanic alike, to free themselves from the tyrannical control of Mexico’s political dictator, General Santa Ana. Much earlier, Santa Ana had thrown out the Mexican Constitution of 1824 so that he could rule the country with a solitary and power/greed-driven iron hand and the Texians who settled this vast area to the north had rallied together under the leadership of General Sam Houston to resist that control and to avenge the losses of their comrades in arms at LaBahia in Refugio and the Alamo in San Antonio.

"I would give no thought of what the world might say of me, if I could only transmit to posterity the reputation of an honest man." - Sam Houston.

In a famous strategy called “The Runaway Scrape,” Sam Houston had lured Santa Anna’s much larger army east from San Antonio on a cut-and-run path that eventually would lead to its ultimate defeat on the plains of San Jacinto in the late afternoon battle of April 21, 1836.

Santa Ana was defeated and forced to sign a document that freed the people of Texas to form their own nation and, in the process of establishing their freedom to form the nine-year history of the Republic of Texas (1836-1945), it made Texas the only state that ever later joined the United Sates as a former nation unto itself.

All of that history was celebrated again yesterday by people of all discernibly different racial and ethnic backgrounds. On a day that also featured great Texas food, music, arts, and crafts around the base of the San Jacinto Monument, a good time was had by all.

 As most of you already know, Texas ceded away much of its land when it joined the United States of America in 1845. That extra land included portions of current states New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. When Texas entered the Union in 1845, it retained for itself, as the then largest state by area, the right to later subdivide itself into five separate states, each with their own set of two senators.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for that one to ever happen. The strength of Texas is in its people, it size, and in its mystique of the Lone Star. You don’t throw all that away, even for the sake of particularizing special interests power through a handful of new senators.

Beautiful Texas!

Beautiful, beautiful Texas,

Where the beautiful Bluebonnets grow,

We’re proud of our forefathers,

Who fought at the Alamo.

There are some folks who still like to travel.

To see what they have over there,

But when they go look,

It’s not like the book,

And they find there is none to compare,

With beautiful, beautiful Texas.

– excerpt from “Beautiful Texas,” a song written by former Texas Governor Pappy Lee O’Daniel.

San Jacinto Monument

You can live on the plains or the mountains,

Or down where the sea breezes blow,

But you’re still in beautiful Texas,

The most beautiful place that I know.

– O’Daniel.

My Favorite Western Ever: Shane

April 10, 2011

Westerns. They don’t make ’em like they used to, but last year’s remake of “True Grit” came close.

I can count my favorite movies from this genre on the fingers of one hand. That movie-digital palm would include Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives, Chuck Connors, Jean Simmons, and Charles Bickford in “The Big Country” from 1958; John Wayne, Jeffery Hunter, Ward Bond, and Natalie Wood in “The Searchers” from 1956; Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Walter Brennan in “Gunfight at the OK Corral” from 1958; John Wayne (again), Montgomery Clift, Joanne Dru, and Walter Brennan (again) in “Red River” from 1948; and lastly, my all-time, by-a-landslide -favorite-for-its-narrative-theme-and-dialogue-detail, I pick Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon de Wilde, Jack Palance, Ben Johnson, and all the others who made 1953’s “Shane” my greatest western of all time.

The narrative themes were all present and accounted for – and clear as day: (1) the west is big; (2) cowboys and farmers can’t always be friends when it comes to their different ideas on how all this big land should be used; (3) farmers aren’t always the greatest conversationalist; (2) farmer’s wives get bored out there on the plains; (4) straggling ex-gunfighters who suddenly drift into the farm as temporary workers can look pretty good to a bored housewife; (5) even the ten-year old son of the stoic farmer sees the drifter worker as an intriguing role model, based on his demonstrated ability for shooting a gun; (6) now run all these little intrigues smack dab into the side of the fact that the area’s main cattle baron is aiming to run this farmer and all other “sod-busters” off the plains just as soon as possible by whatever means it takes.

An old gunfighter is sort like baseball’s modern designated hitter. Even though he’s aging, and wants to quit, sure as fire, people keep coming up with money and reasons for him to step up to the plate one more time and take a few final whacks. It doesn’t take long for Alan Ladd as “Shane” to find himself in that spot. In the old west, “DH” stood for “designated hero. or hellion,” depending on your point of view.

Wouldn’t you just know it? The farmers have to do their Saturday shopping for supplies at the same little combination store and saloon where the cowboys also like to drink the weekend away. Talk about a setup for a gunfight. You’d almost think the scriptwriter had some “this can’t be good” outcomes in mind when they designed the little combo market and joy juice joint they named “Grafton’s.”

Sure enough. The first time in the store, and all dressed up in a sodbuster blue jean outfit, Shane goes through the swinging door that separates the store from the bar, but not to buy a drink of alcohol. Shane is going in there to buy a “sody pop” to go for the kid they call “Joey.”

Big mistake. Cowboy Ben Johnson leads a big several round laugh track worthy belittlement of Shane for walking into a man’s saloon and ordering a soft drink. Man! It’s a good thing Shane didn’t ask the bartender at Grafton’s if he had any Coke Zero! Ordering plain old root beer was bad enough.

Still, not wanting to start a war, Shane keeps himself in check, leaving the impression with one and all, including little Joey, that the big mouth of Ben Johnson was wide enough to “put the run on another sodbuster.”

While Shane sits on his bruised ego for a week, a lot happens. Ranch King Ryker takes the Shane backdown as a sign that he is safe to make things worse for the sodbusters, He accelerates the random destruction of their crops and property. A different Shane goes to market with the farmers the next Saturday. He’s still dressed in work jeans, but his mind is all guns-and-fists guy.

Returning to the bar, Ben Johnson walks over to resume his round of insults. “What are you doing here, Shane?” Johnson asks. “Did you think we was going to let you come in here and drink with the men?”

Shane is cool.

“I came in here to buy you a drink,” Shane answers, as he takes a drink and throws it on Johnson’s shirt, right before he punches him to the floor with a hard right cross.  A big fight breaks out between the farmers and the cowboys, with the sod-busters getting the best of the bout at fist’s end.

Farmers are fickle. The previous Saturday, they left Grafton’s in fear that they had not done enough. This time they left fearing that they had done too much. And they were probably right, if you want to measure things by the short-term reaction from rancher Ryker.

Ryker first reacts as though he were the George Steinbrenner of the Plains. Sensing Shane as new competitive trouble, he tries to buy him,, but the old old DH turns him down. As a first result of rejection, the burning of sodbuster crops and homes picks up.

Then Ryker gets serious.

He hires another still active DH, the serpentine gunfighter known as “Jack Wilson,” played so beautifully evil in his ways by a young Jack Palance. Well, sir, I got to tell you. Old Jack Wilson promptly goes out of his way to kill a blow-hard Alabama farmer named “Stonewall,” played by Elisha Cook, Jr., after the poor misguided farmer had the nerve to go to town alone, except for one buddy, to shop for supplies during the week. Wilson baits Stonewall into drawing his gun and then shoots the fear-frozen farmer to death in the muddy soil of a rainy day on the only street in town.

The news of Stonewall’s death is all that Shane needs to release the soul of his inner killer. He first has to knock out dull farmer Heflin to earn the title shot, but he then rides back to town in the dark wearing his own DH buckskins and his trusty Colt .45. Little Joey and his dog follow Shane to town on foot and they get there just in time to hear this encounter between their hero and Mr. Wilson.

Shane is standing at the bar, but he turns around to speak to the man sitting alone at a table by the far wall.

“So you’re Jack Wilson,” Shane says, “I’ve heard about you.”

“What have you heard, Shane?” asks a smiling sinister Wilson, as he stands and drops his hands by his sides.”

“I’ve heard that you’re a no-good, low down,  rotten Yankee liar!” Shane answers.

“Prove it!” Wilson demands, as he prepares to draw fire.

‘KER-BLOOEY!” answers the Colt .45 of DH Shane – and its out of the park!

Jack Wilson is blown away for good.

Unfortunately, Shane also has to shoot Ryker and his little brother before he can escape Grafton’s Saloon with his own life, but he is also hit by a cheap shot from above by the brother that would likely have been fatal too, had it not been for a “look out, Shane” warning yell from little Joey.

Injured, but restored, it is time for Shane to go, and he knows it. Ignoring the pleas of little Joey to stay because “mama’s got things for you to do,” Shane advises Joey to mind his parents and “grow up straight and strong.” Then Shane rides off into the high country, with little Joey still calling, “Come back Shane,” until the hero disappears.

Whatever Mama needed, it now will have to be provided by the sodbuster she married. Shane has taken his DH/gunfighter mystique powers and vanished over the mountain.

If they ever made a finer western than “Shane,” I just never saw it.

“Seems Like Yesterday” Goes Beyond Nostalgia

April 7, 2011


Weiner’s: They used to be all over town.


Weiner’s Department Stores used to be as ubiquitous in Houston as bluebonnets in a Texas spring. As a cheap place for family clothing back in the 1950s, they were only beaten by the Robert Hall Clothing line as an economical choice for Houstonians living on a tight budget. And speaking of such, I found this YouTube preservation of some popular Robert Hall commercial jingles as I was researching this subject. To my own state of complete unsurprise, I remembered the lines of most advertising lyrics you will hear at this site from a half century go. It was clear through the brainwashed minds of brains like my own that the “Mad Men” of early media advertising learned that they could play and condition our buying patterns like that well-known drum.

Here’s the link for a mental “jangle” into the radio past.

.Mading’s Drug Stores were another business you found everywhere too. Back in the day that people bought groceries at a grocery store, and drugs at a drug store, and clothing at a clothing store, Mading’s seemed prosperous enough in the Houston economy. It’s enclosed telephone booth (the kind that Superman once used to change clothes from his Clark Kent disguise) also was the nearest place from home for a private phone call to my girl friend. It cost me a nickel, but that was a coin that rolled a long way for a good cause.

As younger kids, we used to pull that oldest telephone “joke” in the world on Mading’s, which sold cigars.  cigarettes, and pipe tobacco, of course. After all, it was a drug store and it sold these items back in the time that those then everyday household items were not counted as addictive substances. And, of course, our calls had nothing to do with the promulgation of public health. We were just being “wiseacres,” as my dad dubbed us, once he disapprovingly discovered what we were doing.

What we were doing was this simple and this stupid: We would call up Mading’s Drugs and ask for the tobacco department. From there, this exchange would take place:

Mading’s: “Tobacco here.”

Wiseacres: “Do you have Prince Albert in cans?”

Mading’s: “Yes we do.”

Wiseacres: “Well, you’d better let him out before he smothers.”

(Hang up.)

How stupid could we get? How about this one: “Hello, Mrs. Stalin. Is Joe home?”

Fortunately, the cure for some forms of stupidity is maturity. It’s just not always guaranteed for everyone in every instance. And all the while we were growing up, even in this seemingly permanent world of predictable brand names and stores, and safe, clean telephone humor, the world even then was changing all around us.

Today I’m just grateful for every new day that comes along. I no longer count on any brand name or service being around forever, but I am amazed that not a single new Internet company has yet picked up on the business response that could make them bigger than Twitter or Facebook ever dreamed of becoming. And it was something that brick and mortar stores of the 1950s did pretty darn well. Now, in 2011, it’s almost totally slipped out of sight – and especially in Internet business.

That’s simply this: paying close and concerned attention to customer needs after you’ve taken their money. Today’s Internet services do a hawkish job of getting people to sign up for this and that; then they take their money by credit card; then they leave them flat on questions of delivery, honesty in advertising, and technical support. Based on my own experience, very few Internet customer support programs include a genuinely workable phone option on customer questions and many of these even seem designed to discourage customers from ever asking for customer support more than once.

If it’s ever going to “seem like yesterday” again on the business trust side, America needs more businesses that care about the quality and value of their goods and services as they remain dedicated to preserving a good relationship with customers beyond the point of sale. If those business conditions cannot be restored, then I predict we are wasting our time trying to restore our national manufacturing economy to its former might.

Seems like yesterday? Prove it. Bring back the human response to customer support.



Those Saturday Serial Days

April 4, 2011

Batman (The Original) 1943

For me, it all started with original Batman serial in 1943. At age five, I could walk about six blocks each Saturday from out little rental duplex on Pecore Street, cross Studewood Avenue by myself, and then make my way straight into the old Studewood Theatre for the weekly showing of “Batman” and transfixation into another world – the world of Gotham City and the original caped crusader’s war on crime and evil.

All I had to do was see that little winged bat introduction logo featured here as I simultaneously tuned my ears to the slow-droning classical-like musical introduction and my voyage to this other land of cliff-hanging action would begin in earnest. For about fifteen minutes each Saturday, for fifteen weeks in a row, the battle between good and evil would play out before the believing eyes and ears of all the faithful who came to cheer Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, as they chased down the bad guys and fought with all their might to protect America and our “American way of life.”

Since the original “Batman” was made during World War II, the arch villain here was a Japanese gentleman named “Dr. Daka,” played by American actor J. Carrol Naish, who portrayed the “bad guy” role  with his eyes taped into an Asian slant in the most offensive way by 21st century standards. As little kids, we didn’t care. All we cared about was that Batman existed to protect us from all harm. The fact that the fight scenes often pushed Batman’s eyes away from the viewing slots in his hooded mask, making it easier for the bad guys to knock him out, was lost upon us back then. We just knew that our hero would always find a way to prevail in the end. I had to see the serial again as an adult to see how all the sight line imperfections of our hero’s costume would have made finding the quickest way to the bathroom difficult enough – and actually fighting almost impossible.

Other serials came our way as WWII ended. After my family moved to Pecan Park in the East End in 1945, all my Saturday movie fare attentions shifted to the Avalon Theatre on 75th, just north of the Lawndale intersection.

All serials followed this course: (1) much fist-fighting and car chasing; (2) a lot of gun-shooting with no concern for bystander safety; (3) little attention to technical details. For example, one rocket ship had an adjustment spot on the flight lever that was marked as “take off;” (4) There was a good chance that one of the principle bad guys was going to be played by an actor named Roy Barcroft; (4) fpr 11 to 14 weeks, the serial hero, and/or his girl friend, would be left hanging near certain death at the end of each mid-story chapter; and, (5) in the end, the bad guys would be vanquished, destroyed, wiped out, and killed in ways that they each major villain so richly deserved.

Here are a few of my other favorite serials from back in the day:

The Purple Monster Strikes (1945)

The Purple Monster Strikes (1945). Roy Barcroft stars as a man from Mars who comes to Earth to learn more about jet engine technology. The Martians want to take over our planet, but they don’t know how to build a plane or a rocket ship that can take off again once it lands the first time. The science deficiency of the Martians is pretty fishy. These are the same Martians who already have invented a little box called ” the distance eliminator,” a device that allows them to understand and speak any language to which they are exposed. – And these same brilliant beings don’t how to build an aircraft that can take off again once it lands?

In the end, the Purple Monster’s plans for world domination literally blow him to smithereens.

Serial Social Note: Linda Stirling plays the hero’s girl friend, a role she often plays in these duels between good and evil.

The Crimson Ghost (1946)

The Crimson Ghost (1946). Linda Stirling returns as the hero’s girl friend and Lone Ranger star Clayton Moore appears as an absolute two-dimensional psychopath who will do whatever the evil Crimson Ghost tells him to do if it serves their goal of building a nuclear bomb they can use to take over the world. In the end, of course, the evil professor who scares the cra-zap out of people with his blatant grabs for power is destroyed – as is the socially irredeemable “Ash,” played by the aforementioned Clayton Moore.

King of the Rocket Men (1949)

King of the Rocket Men (1949). Tris Coffin did a great job as the “Rocket Man.” Saving the world from communism and the evil people who wanted to destroy freedom-loving nations  with the atomic bomb was as ongoing struggle for all the big and little superheroes of the late 1940s.

As kids, we loved how quick and easy it was Rocket Man to find and reach all the crime scenes that kept popping up over the fifteen week course of this serial. We also could not quite figure out how Rocket Man was able to use his rocket-firing flight suit without burning the part of his anatomy that is so critical to sitting down for dinner at the end of the day,

The best answer we could logically discern? Aluminum underwear.

As I’ve sort of written in my other earlier brushes with the movie serials memory, these little open-ended stories were part of the suspension bridge that threaded the childhood years for many of us who grew up in the years following World War II. What we derived from this exposure, for better or worse, is a much longer subject for another day, but I now only look back on it in my own life as a time of joy.

Life was was simpler then. Or so it seemed.

Sounds Like Old Times

March 30, 2011


I can hear this baby now. Can you?


My lifelong interest in the past, all things old, and the musky smell of old newspapers in some out of the way library somewhere, sooner or later, had to lead me through all the ways we experience life through our senses. One doesn’t merely read or think about the past, whether it’s the Civil War, local history, family matters, or the journey of American baseball from the pasture lands to the city. To grasp the past as closely as we are able, and without a physical time machine, we must be open to ways that enable us to see it, taste it, feel it, smell it, and, yes, hear it too.

And, if you have a sixth sense, plug that one in as well. That sixth sense may even be the key to learning how to tune in your five physical senses to the same daunting challenge. In fact, and here’s what I have found, the more free you are to play with the five senses in your mind, the easier it is to make room for a total sense of what some moment in the past may actually have been like.

Let’s take a simple example that surrounds many of us daily to explore how this works, especially in the attics of older homes.

Most attics are not visited too often. In that sense, attics are like little time capsule pictures of what things were like on the last day anyone went there to place, remove, or rearrange things. In Houston, we probably have some unceremonious attic arrangements in places like River Oaks and the Heights that have not been reconfigured since the 1930s – or even the 1920s.

So what?

So, assuming the owner’s permission, or being the owner yourself, go to such an attic storage place. Turn on the light, or bare open the usually paint and dust caked attic window, if there even is one. See what you can see. Try to imagine how each item got there. Who left the empty coke bottle on that two by four ledge over a half century ago? Smell the musk of age and air confinement. Sense the heat. Depending on the time of year, the attic temperature may not be especially conducive to long visitations. There also will be things in sight that you certainly would be afraid to taste – or even touch.

But what do you hear? If sound from the outside yard and street is available to you in 2011, what was out there in 1937? Would you recognize the sound of manual lawnmower blades, if your heard them? Would you be surprised by the louder, more guttural  sound of car engines from the 1930’s as they passed by? How about the music of Benny Goodman or Guy Lombardo playing over a radio somewhere and now wafting its way to the attic?

And who was the child that once played with that little mechanical version of Donald Duck that you’ve just found and wound and sent quacking across the attic floor? Do you now think that same kid may have also had a daddy who once owned and then stored a copy of the famous 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card somewhere up here in this same attic?

Are you catching a second wind on that thought and thinking you may want to stay here and visit the past a while longer? Or is that just the lust for buried treasure taking over?

No matter what, when you finally do come down from the ancient attic, did the use or idea of using all your senses help you do a little simulated time traveling? If so, you are probably now better prepared than ever to do some kind of historical research. Once we learn to turn all our senses on to the time period we are investigating, I think we learn faster and, in some cases, we see connections we might otherwise miss altogether.

Just my wide open mental meanderings on a sort of rainy morning in March 2011.

Working on Income Taxes

March 22, 2011

Just Thinking How the Government Uses Our Money Only Makes It Harder.

Few things stop me from coming up with a new pretty much daily column subject here. Church on Sunday will do it. And sometimes other “real work” gets in the way, but neither of those routine weekly events dampens my spirit. The only one that does comes annually and its the ancient partner of death in that old saying about life’s inevitable occurrences.  The government likes to call them taxes. We the People are free to call them anything we choose, even if our words are sometimes unprintable.

I’ve been working on my taxes for about five long days straight and I just got finished with my part – the annual “book” I send to my CPA for her always preferable finishing touches.I haven’t done the completion of my taxes alone in years – not since I finally figured out that the government is always going to make it a little more complicated each year than I care to spend my time learning. My job is to stay on top of what my money is doing, and not doing, and make adjustments, with counsel, when advisable.

It always feels good to get my data work ups in the mail to my CPA. She always seems to find ways I can save further based on some new arcane ruling or policy – and that makes me happy. My life, and my business approaches, are constructed on a simple two-step plane: (1) Be honest and (2) Stay honest. It’s worked so far – and I’m not likely to change course now.

I just don’t like the tedium of working with money and stock numbers. Unlike baseball stats, I find stocks, bonds, and most real estate about as devoid of  romantic investment as there is. I realize that’s not true for everyone, and I respect that fact. They just don’t push any passion buttons for me.

What makes it harder is if I get off the track when I’m “doing taxes” and start thinking about all the things the government is going to do with our money once they get their hands on it.


Everything from the congressional gravy train to $400 hammers purchased by the Pentagon to time share camel rides for Terrorist insurgents in Afghanistan come to mind and those abuses take away all smiles.

Oh well. Unless we are going to have a revolution, it’s best to just do our taxes, pay our taxes, and go back to thinking about baseball once we’ve placed our checks in the mail.

Have a nice day, everybody!

The Hugh Roy Cullen Legacy

March 15, 2011


Ezekiel Cullen Building, University of Houston.

Hugh Roy Cullen was one of those people who did very well in life, but who also came to the clear realization that holding on to money that could be used for some noble and larger purpose was the most foolish form of greed and miserliness. No miser was he.

Born July 3, 1881 in Denton County, Texas to Cicero and Louise Beck Cullen, Hugh Roy Cullen was the grandson of Ezekiel Wimberly Cullen. Ezekiel came from Georgia to Texas in 1835 seeking a better life. He. fought in the Texas Revolution against Mexico, eventually settling in San Augustine, Texas the seat of the new revolutionary government.

Raised by his mother in San Antonio, Cullen left school after the fifth grade, taking work at age 12 as a three dollars per week candy counter for a manufacturing concern. Cullen continued to study on his own, reading the classics and also further honing his math and science skills and knowledge. At age 17, he moved to Schulenburg and took to the cotton business like white on rice, becoming a successful agent in the sale and purchase of cotton. In Schulenburg, Cullen also met his future wife of nearly 55 years in the form of Lillie Kranz. The couple was married in 1902.

The Cullens moved to Houston in 1911, where Hugh Roy transferred his discovered skills in the business of land management to the booming new oil exploration industry, and right at the moment it was exploding as the big new American industry, especially in the area around Houston. Bringing in his first successful oil field, Cullen soon formed partnerships that helped him to put together his own oil company, Quintana Petroleum, and, by the mid to late 1930s, he was well on his way to becoming one of the richest men in America,

Then something happened.

Cullen’s only son, Roy, was killed in a tragic oil field accident in 1936, putting a major heartache on the Cullen family, but also opening the Cullen heart to give of himself in ways he may never before imagined possible. Cullen never forgot the obstacles he faced when circumstances limited his early family education. He looked around and found the University of Houston, just as the new school was struggling to find its feet as a provider of higher education to students could not afford to leave home in pursuit of a college education. In 1938, for starters, Cullen donated $260,000 for the construction of the Roy Gustav Cullen Building on the UH campus in honor of his deceased son.

By 1947, and now established as one of the wealthiest men in America, Cullen established the Cullen Foundation to handle the award of gifts to charitable causes, especially to those serving the needs of students with limited means for higher education. The foundation was governed directly by three of Cullen’s adult daughters and, in 1948, further substantial contributions to new building and program expansion at the University of Houston, Without the help of the Cullens, UH could never have become the force it is today in higher education, and a university now legitimately postured for becoming one of America’s designated Tier One universities.

The Cullen Foundation also provided the money and land purchase assistance that led to the establishment of Texas Southern University in the early years following the conclusion of World War II. Cullen Foundation support also provided support for programs served through Baylor University, In the end, most of the Cullen family wealth was donated to their foundation for distribution to worthy educational causes that primarily benefitted the needs of Houston’s college-age population.

Hugh Roy Cullen passed away on July 4, 1957 in Houston, one day after his 76th birthday. He died a complete success as a human being.

The legacy of Hugh Roy Cullen shall always be that he gave of himself to cause that were larger than any his own modest wishes for personal acquisition. That may have come easier for Cullen than some others for he was one of those people whose wealth was merely a by-product of his passion and never the goal in itself.

Cullen put it this way: “Giving away money is no particular credit to me. Most of it came out of the ground – and while I found the oil in the ground, I didn’t put it there. I’ve got a lot more than Lillie and I and our children and grandchildren can use. I don’t think I deserve any great credit for using it to help people. It’s easier for me to give a million dollars now than it was to give five dollars to the Salvation Army twenty-five years ago.”

The Cullen legacy was love. By any other name you may wish to call it, that’s what it still comes down to. As one of those kids you helped make education affordable, I just want to say again: “Thank you, Mr. Cullen, for being the man you were. I couldn’t have done it without you.”


Mrs. Brown’s Possum Tale

January 20, 2011

Neal Brown and her dog Kazza

Neal Brown is one of my oldest friends. She’d have to be. We’ve known each other since both of us were young pups. I met her in the months following my master’s degree graduation from Tulane in 1964. Another of my old friends, the late Jerry Brown of Ole Miss University, was back in New Orleans to finish his own degree program and, by then, he was married to Neal. And that’s how we met.

Jerry and Neal eventually settled in a home they built with the help of their two children, Heather and Hillary, in a beautiful forest, somewhere in the piney woods of Mississippi. When I say built it, I mean they literally brought the materials from the city to their homestead site and built everything they could by hand with instruction from books and the advice of live experts. They may have needed to call in electricians and plumbers for help with the more technical aspects, but they did 95% of the hard work themselves. If you ever saw the house, which I once did in June 1982, you would almost sense the love and care that went into the place with every driven nail.

Jerry and Neal always dreamed of a home that came without a mortgage and they found one. It was right at their fingertips. With their own intelligence and willingness to work put in motion, the job got done over time.

And where did “Mrs. Brown” acquire the usually male name “Neal” as her identity?

Neal’s real first name is “Mary,” but she started using “Neal,” a family name, as her personal identity choice way back in high school in Arkansas, long before she went on to Ole Miss and served as the head baton twirler in the school marching band on her way to a degree in education.

The girls grew up, went to college, and moved away to their own lives long ago – Jerry Brown passed away from cancer on 9/11/2005. Neal Brown has stayed on in the house and  her life in the forest, along with her pet Rotweiller, Kazza, and several cats, I believe. She also keeps chickens and other small farm animals, and does most of the maintenance herself, in spite of “her” advanced age. She attends church, does volunteer work at a nursing home, and she socializes with friends in a nearby little town, The rest of the time, she’s out there in the wilderness, having adventures that only the wilds shall bring. Now retired from regular employment as the director of a baton twirling school, Neal stays in close regular contact with her married daughters and several grandchildren – and she also has time for e-mail contact with her distant friends in Texas and other places. These come in the form of true storytelling.

People in Neal’s neck of the woods are usually true storytellers. They read a lot. And they live their lives in narrative contact with the daily flow of things. Neal Brown is one of those true storytellers; so much so that, when Neal sent me this latest tale yesterday morning, I had to ask her permission to reprint it here. She was obligingly willing to allow it’s reproduction here as  guest columnist for The Pecan Park Eagle. All I’ve provided from is the title and the publication space. Hope you enjoy this brief glimpse of the American forest world through the eyes of one resident, my wonderful friend, Neal F. Brown:

“Mrs. Brown’s Possum Tale”

by Neal F. Brown

At 4:30 a.m. this morning I woke up, went into the kitchen, turned on my coffee, made a cup, picked it up, took it to my bedroom crawled into my bed,  started reading a new book by Stephen Hunter about a cop in Arkansas.

Before I returned to my reading, I saw my one of my cats, Fluffy, outside the kitchen sliding glass doors, begging for breakfast, along with Maw Maw, ( my only cat that I can touch). So, as per usual, I place a small container of cat food by the door.

Whenever I turn on the lights in the kitchen this early, Fluffy shows up for breakfast.

I went back to my book that was turning out to be very entertaining, but about 5:30, I was feeling hungry and decided to get up to start my own breakfast, Kazza the Rotweiller was still asleep on her posturpedic bed in my bedroom. That was when all hell broke loose!!

I went to the sliding glass doors to check out the cats because, when they are finished, I put away the containers because my two pet chickens always get up with the sun and fly down from their tree perch. They will want to finish off the expensive cat food instead of their grain that I put out every day.

I opened the door, just like I do each mourning, but this day was different!! Those were not two cats eating breakfast! They were two POSSUMS!  Suddenly, one of them took off over the veranda, but the other one RAN BETWEEN MY LEGS INTO THE HOUSE~~ My blood pressure was soaring because I don’t like these animals. (They have very sharp teeth, and they can really growl when they get angry!).

Meanwhile, Kazza comes into the kitchen to see what is going on, and she immediately realizes that something has transpired on the veranda, and she takes off leaping off the deck onto the patio, and she is growling, with her hair straight up off her back, and she runs to the red berry tree, and then to the tall oak. She is jumping up and growling, and I think the possum must have climbed the tree!!

Meanwhile, I am up a creek here.  The possum is in the house, and, if he runs upstairs, I will NEVER CATCH HIM.This is a big old farm house with a million places a possum could hide, for YEARS!!

My first instinct is to close all the doors to the two bedrooms down stairs, and the two closets, and the utility room. (Once, many years ago, I went out to the barn to feed the horses in the dark and accidently brought the bucket back into the house, placed it on the floor. Out jumped a HUGE WOOD RAT. He was in the house for a long time, and it was during the winter. He was chewing every night and I was going crazy..Jerry would not do anything except go to the store later and buy a huge trap, but the rat would never go to the trap!!  Then, one night, I had all I could take, and I went downstairs and started yelling. I opened all the sliding glass doors upstairs and downstairs and the front door, and I said,  “WHAT DO YOU WANT?”

Well, even though it was freezing outside, the rat left. He wanted out – and I figured out how to get him out, but that was 20 years ago and Jerry is not here to help me this time!

Back to the possum in the house.

I am not sure where he is, but I know he did not run into those rooms, and they are secure now.  Should I call Kazza back in, or what?

I start looking everywhere, and then I see him..He is hiding next to one of the sliding glass doors that is locked and secure, and he is behind the trash can in the corner, where I keep the bird seed.

How to get him out?

Will he go out or run toward me and escape to the upstairs? Kazza is still outside with the possum up the tree, and she is growling like a mad bear.  If I bring her in, will she start chasing him? If so, up the stairs he may go.

I decide to get a broom and try to unlock the sliding glass door, but before I do that I open the front door, and the other two sliding glass doors (remembering my rat in the house time) in hopes that, if he makes a run for it, he will run through one of them.

The broom may scare him, and I am scared too. I took the broom and tried to get the lock to open, and finally it did. Of course, the possum was  behind the trash can, and hiding, feeling pretty secure there. I was able to get the lock to release, and then open the sliding glass door. All he has to do now is to run out!! But he is very stubborn.

He keeps hiding.

I am beating on the trash can, and trying to reach behind it and hit him, scare him, and make him run out. Suddenly, here comes Kazza.

Kazza runs back up on the veranda, and I tell her to GO AWAY!! Then I try hitting the can again, and FINALLY – he takes off through the door.  I ran around the house closing all the sliding glass doors, and my heart is beating – so fast. I am thanking Jesus that he is here with me because I had few choices. There was no one to call at this hour, and what could they do, anyway?

I was just lucky that I somehow did the right things. However, never again will I go to the sliding glass door in the dark, and open it to check on the cat food.

Forget it!

I don’t care how hungry they are, they will just have to wait until daylight for me next time – since I can’t tell a possum from a cat!

Houston Baseball and Dr. King

January 18, 2011

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington, DC, 8/28/1963.

On the very day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream Speech” in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC back on August 28, 1963, the Civil Rights movement in Houston, Texas had barely moved a practical inch since its national inception in 1954. That earlier year had witnessed the end of total segregation in local professional sports with the addition of the wonderful Bob Boyd to the roster of the Houston Buffs in May 1954 as the first black to formally play with whites here in any team sport.

Bob Boyd still had to live and travel on the road to inferior segregated accommodations in 1954. White Houston and Texas were neither ready for greater physical mixture of the races back then. Not all of us white Houstonians felt this fear of integration in 1954, but the vocal majority that ran things for everyone mostly did and, by their actions and inactions, the white-dominated power structure allowed schools, landlords, and local businesses to keep up their courses of racial segregation and outright denial of service to blacks for a while longer in “subtler” ways..

Through 1954, that little uncovered grandstand down the right field line served as the "colored section" and one blight on the good old days at Buff Stadium in Houston.

Segregation continued to breathe in Houston until it could no longer stand up against the joint forces of social protest and the determination of the federal government to support a vigorous new policy on Civil Rights. These mighty forces of support for Constitutional allegiance overwhelmed the most serious forms of public resistance to change. Those of us who supported these changes were largely young and idealistic. We believed in our country as a place where we all maintained our rights to differ from each other, but that we trusted that we were also a nation at the end of the day that would bear forth our identity as The United States of America.

By the time of the famous speech of Dr. King in August 1963, the old Houston Buffs had been dead for two years as a minor league franchise. The City of Houston now played its professional baseball in the National League at Colt Stadium as the Colt .45s. The 1963 Colt .45s were a racially integrated ball club, all right, but young black players from northern cities, players like future star Jimmy Wynn, were also still busy getting their full taste of what life could be like in a transitional “southern city.”

By 1963, the old supporters of full segregation had gotten the hammer and adjusted their tactics. Instead of making it easy for the people to protest or petition against loud statements of “Segregation Spoken Here,” the old guard went to quieter forms of resistance to integratiion.

Residential services put out the “no room in the inn” sign to black applicants; restaurants evoked the assumed power of their ever popular “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone” signs as a basis for not serving minorities; and some movie theaters put up the “sold out” sign for blacks attempting to buy tickets at previously all white venues.

Bob Boyd broke the "color line" in all Houston sports when he joined the Houston Buffs baseball club in May 1954.

In a perfect world, we would have resolved all these differences by now, but forty-eight years beyond “I Have A Dream,” we have achieved only a smaller victory. Blacks in Houston may now live, work, and commerce as they please in 2011 Houston, but that doesn’t mean that blacks are now impervious to more subtle and intelligently designed forms of discrimination. They are still out there – just waiting for ignition by smarter white racists whose skills for survival exceed their impulses to act in blatant hatred. These monsters do it quieter.

On the big plus side, Houstonians appear to be much more color-blind today about their sports heroes. Maybe when “he runs pretty fast for a white guy” disappears, we’ll know we’ve made real progress. In the meanwhile, we may have to settle for the fact that fans don’t go around saying “that Michael Bourn sure is a great little black center fielder.” Colorblindness is key to really getting to know the person behind the skin, but it only happens individually. Once more, the reminder checks in. Life works a lot easier when we look for signs of practical improvement and not get stuck on how things “should be” in a perfect world.

Houston baseball is what it is as a direct result of the Civil Rights Movement. The same is true of Houston. Today we are poised to become one of the great international cities of the world. All we have to do is keep making progress on our commitment to both “respect difference” and “equalize opportunity.” The cream will rise to the top from there.

Thanks for everything, Dr. King. You weren’t perfect either, but you had more vision, courage, and faith in America than just about anyone else in history . Many leaders put their lives on the line for the sake of power. You put your life on the line in behalf of righteousness. Thank you for the gift of that great love and devotion to God’s Work.

SABR Celebrates at 2011 Houston Baseball Dinner

January 15, 2011

(L>R) Bobby Heck, Astros Ass't GM, Scouting; Bob Dorrill, SABR; David Gottfried, Ass't GM, Baseball Operations; Ed Wade, Astros General Manager.

Twenty SABR members at two SABR tables were on hand last night to help celebrate the 2011 version of the annual Houston Baseball Dinner, The numbers did not the include the broad scattering of many other SABR people at various other tables throughout the crowd of 1,000 people in attendance at the Hilton Americas downtown on January 14.

The dinner initiated years ago by the late Allen Russell and his wife Jo Russell, along with the help of longtime supporter and former sportswriter Ivy McLemore, was again a rousing success in honoring the spirit and accomplishments of the Houston Baseball community.

Mike McCroskey of SABR sang Our National Anthem to get the evening started. It was the second year in a row that our man Mike carried out that responsibility in fine voice and form. He must have done all right the first time. Otherwise, it’s not likely there would have been a second time. – Nice job, Michael!

In addition to the individual recognition that the dinner usually accords to the top high school baseball players from the area, the HBBD also recognized the Pearland Little Leaguers for their success in 2010 Little League World Series.

Astros Icon and new SABR member Jimmy Wynn and his wife Marie Wynn were on hand at one of the Astros tables.

Here’s how the special awards for the evening went:

Coach Rick Lynch took the Ray Knoblauch Award.

Anthony Rendon of Rice University won the Houston Area Preseason Major College Player of the Year Award.

Barry Waters of the Astros took the Fred Hartman Long and Meritorious Service Award.

Chris Johnson was named as the Astro Rookie of the Year.

Carl Crawford captured the Houston Area Major League Player of the Year Award.

Mike Rutledge received the Allen Russell Distinguished Achievement Award.

Former Astro and current Padre Geoff Blum took the Darryl Kile Award.

Brett Myers was named as the 2010 Astro Pitcher of the Year.

Hunter Pence took top honors as the 2010 Astro Player of the Year.

Meanwhile, about $18,000 was also raised by an auction set up to support the Grand Slam for Youth Baseball scholarship program.

The Houston Baseball Dinner is also our community’s way of turning the corner in the dead of winter each year and looking forward to the new baseball season. As always, it cannot get here soon enough for many of us, so, we’ll just have to keep on staring out the window or over at our computer screens until it gets here.

These other smiling faces from last night will also help remind us of the springtime that’s coming, with baseballs popping leather hard and bouncing even harder off their contact with real wooden bats. There is no “ping” in major league baseball and there is nothing nothing minor league about the smiles that follow.

C’mon clock! Get us to April, when the games really count. Menahwile, stay out of the cold and damp weather as best you are able.

Phil and Nancy Holland, SABR.

Bob Stevens & Son, Robbie Stevens, SABR

Larry Miggins, Former Houston Buff & St. Louis Cardinal, SABR.

John Miggins, Son of Larry Miggins & Charlie Sheen Look-a-Like.

Marsha Franty & Peggy Dorrill, SABR.

Peggy & Bob Dorrill, Deep in the Heart of SABR.