Monday, July 31, 2006

Frank 'n Joe - forty years!

In the early 1990s (while my family lived in Devine, southwest of S.A.) I began to be acquainted with "Frank 'n Joe". And now that I'm residing here in San Antonio I've gotten well-familiar with this gospel-singing team, a father-son duet. Daddy Frank -- isn't there a country song about him, and "Sister played the ringin' tambourine" and deaf Mama and so forth? -- sings lead while son Joe plays piano (or keyboard) and sings harmony.

The Ramirez father-and-son team celebrated forty years of gospel-singing ministry Saturday nite, at their home church, First Mexican Fundamental Baptist Church in the southeast quadrant of this city. Since I so greatly enjoy their singing, whether they sing in English or in Spanish, I wasn't about to let the church's long name scare me away! Actually, the church was quite nice. It was packed, every pew filled and several folding chairs too.

Well, the concert was a true blessing! Four or five artists or groups sang, three songs each, before Frank 'n Joe took the stage. They were all powerful, but the best was the last, a young soloist lady who is Frank's granddaughter and Joe's niece. Ooh! did she have a golden voice! I began to contemplate what it might be like to make the Ramirez duet a trio.

There was a slide show of photos of the Frank 'n Joe team in ministry over those forty years. Considering that forty years ago was in the midst of the colorful polyesther era, the guys' garb in the early years looked almost quaint or amusing! But it wasn't the look, it is the SOUND that makes them so special. And the guys sounded as gr-r-r-reat as always when they sang a couple of gospel songs live, in Spanish and also in English!

I pray that our dear Lord Jesus grant Frank 'n Joe many more years of music ministry to His glory and the blessing of others!

Apricots, the juicy fruit!

Just this morning I was in the nearest H.E.B., the local grocery store (and more) chain that dominates San Antonio and the Hill Country. And as in previous years at the end of July, I was disappointed to find that the season for apricots is over. I declare! The apricot is the fruit with THE SHORTEST growing season!

That's disappointing because the apricot is my favorite fruit, above all. It's been my fave since I was a teenager and my family lived in a house in Boise with an apricot in the backyard. I loved to go out there in season and pick and eat an apricot right off that little tree.

Funny that I do not remember knowing back in those years how short the apricot season runs. And funny that I haven't noticed apricot trees here in South Texas. But then, I'm not sure I'd recognize an apricot tree without the ripe fruit hangin on it. And then again, perhaps this region is just too hot for growing apricots.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

A long, full day of Fiesta Texas

Friday the 28th turned into a very long, very full, day for me at my jobsite, Six Flags Fiesta Texas. In addition to working a double shift, i.e., from opening to closing of the train ride, there was a Rides Dept. meeting after hours (meaning after all rides were down and Guests gone home).

It started out rather differently & not per the usual M.O. When I scanned my park i.d. card at the guard station at the employee entrance, it rang the alarm (two quick, short phone rings). But not to worry (said the guard's face), just a reminder about the Rides' "Pep Rally" after hours.

Then I rode the train over to the Western depot during its check run, to open the depot -- and was told by a supervisor in that area to call the German depot and have the train held. You see, there had been a boat wreck (so to speak) on the GullyWasher water ride, right by the depot. I puzzled as to why the train should be shut down when the water ride had the problem. I was told that it was so that train riders wouldn't observe the GullyWasher situation until it looked like it was close to resolving.

Well, the train was allowed to start running (with Guests) in half an hour. Half an hour after that I got sent to the other depot to be Agent there. A weird feeling came over me shortly, there in the German depot. Sarah Cannon in her autobiography ("Minnie Pearl" by Minnie Pearl) described her first performance as Minnie Pearl in a country-girl costume, after having performed her comedy routine numerous times in ordinary clothes. She told how she felt herself "moving out of Sarah. . . into Minnie. . . became the character." And at this moment I felt that I became an honest-to-goodness depot agent and train conductor! I wasn't just a guy doing a summer job in an amusement park. It was an eerie sensation, but if anything it helped me to identify with what had happened so many years ago to Sarah Cannon, a.k.a. Minnie Pearl.

Later on in the day we had a couple of fellows in the blue Class A uniform of the US Air Force on board the train. Lackland AFB here in S.A. is the basic training site for this military branch, and on Saturdays many trainees come to the park in Class A's, in groups or with family. When I'm Conductor and a basic training graduate boards the train I will call the passengers attention to the fact that "we have a special guest on board, in Air Force blue. . . thank you for serving our country in the military!" And I lead the applause. Today I also got my photo taken with a flyboy who had ridden the rails.

And so my double shift on Fiesta Texas Railroad continued into the evening. Finally we closed the ride for the night and put our engine Gretta "to bed", that is, backed her and her four passenger cars to the train shed. I was delighted to see Miss Kitty parked outside the building. Miss Kitty is my favorite of our two train engines: she'd been disabled for quite awhile. Her location outside meant that she would be the operating engine on the rails the next day!

After changing out of my train crew costume I went directly back into the park to watch the "Lone Star Spectacular" yet again. Amusement Today magazine says that this multi-media event is THE BEST outdoor night show in any park in the country! I believe it, because I keep on returning to see it! And this time I noticed that they had taken care of a few minor flaws I'd seen the previous time. The lazer-lights and fireworks musical extravagaza is a moving celebration of what it means to be a Texan & and American. The audience cheers (notably at seeing the name of hometown or their favorite sports hero), laughs (during the "Chicken Dance" scene) and claps and sings along (during "Deep in the Heart of Texas"). And I also get a lump in my patriotic throat during the honoring of the US Army (& USAF & other military branches), during "God Bless America" and during the concluding words of co-narrator "Alamo Annie" about we the people of Texas. Yup! the "Lone Star Spectacular" is quite a show -- by itself worth the park admission!

And then it was time for the Rides meeting or "Pep Rally". One feature of these is a raffle drawing. My ticket number hadn't been called at the previous two rallies, but it was this time! In fact mine was the second or third number to be called out. This means I get to choose any ride, and all Rides crew members of Area 3 of the park get to ride it (the RR is in A3), on a certain day before park opening or after closing.

Let's have some FUN, my co-workers!

Monday, July 24, 2006

An "Emmaus " weekend -- without the "Walk"

In earlier postings I have written about the "Walk to Emmaus" (see, most recently, 13 July "As the Train Rolls. . ." and in depth 24 June "Walk to Emmaus. . ."). Now, "Walk" itself refers to the three-day retreat, which many Emmaus and Cursillo folks have testified was THE BEST weekend or three days of their life. And indeed, my "Pilgrim Walk" and my service on the Team for a Men's Walk in A.D. 2002 are cherished memories!

This past weekend was so full of "Fourth-Day" activities that it was almost like being on a Walk weekend!

It all began Friday evening when the seven San Antonio area Fourth Day Groups (Emmaus communities) held their semi-annual joint gathering. (Each FDG has a monthly gathering, except in the two months when all of us get together.) This took place at Oxford UMC, west of the medical district in northwest San Antonio. NWSA (Norhtwest San Antonio) was the host FDG for this gathering. Due to the bus schedule I arrived early, and to a few minutes to explore the Oxford UMC campus and the neighboring street. (The church is listed as being on Huebner, a major thoro'fare west of the med. dist., but there are actually a couple of acres of open land between the church and Huebner, and entrances into the church parking lots are on the side street.) As I looked westward the hilly neighborhood definitely had a "country" look to it, a "Texas Hill Country" look. Hence it prompted me to think of Mt. Wesley, the Methodist camp in Kerrville where my Pilgrim Walk and my '02 Team Walk took place.

The gathering was terrific! After a scrumptious & sumptious potluck meal in the gym/fellowship hall we adjourned to the fairly new sanctuary for the Worship portion of the gathering. The singing (out of "Songs", Johann Anderson's famous songbook), the Fourth Day Talk, the Lord's Supper. . . . The Spirit of the Lord was there!

Next morning (Saturday the 22d) I saw several of the same Emmaus folks, when we had the second meeting for the Team which will conduct Men's Walk #1327 in October. Like the first meeting, it was at University UMC, which is a couple of miles north of Oxford UMC. We continued our bonding into a team for presenting the gospel of God's grace in Christ, for the Pilgrims who will be on the Walk. More singing, more worship, more Talks (previews of those to be given on that Walk), more food. . . .

And then Sunday nite I attended the meeting of members of Laurel Heights UMC who have been on a Walk to Emmaus. Large congregations that have several members who have been on a Walk tend to form groups within the congregation which meet monthly, just as official Fourth Day Groups meet monthly. (They also tend to have dozens of weekly Reunion Groups made up entirely or mostly of congregation's members.) Laurel Heights is a congregation in Care Bexar FDG. I wasn't at this Sunday evening gathering due to being an official FDG officer, altho' I do hold two offices in Care Bexar. Rather, I attended more because I had visited Laurel Heights two Sundays earlier to hear Bro. Alex Alvarez preach. (Bro. Alex has a music show on KKYX-AM 680, "Sunday Morning Gospel", to which I listen faithfully each Sunday morning before leaving for church.) In the announcements on that Sunday, I had read of the upcoming LHUMC Emmaus gathering, and decided to attend.

Several folk were on vacation, so it was a small gathering. Only a score of folk attemded, a compared to a couple hundred who were at Friday's joint FDG gathering. Nevertheless the spirit of Emmaus was there, with the few as with the many. More singing, more worship, another Talk (a "Fourth Day Talk", just as the one Friday evening was). And more food. . . .

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Spanish Missions re-visited

Yesterday afternoon I got to play Tour Guide -- which is always a fun occupation for me. You see, my upstairs neighbor, Dennis from Detroit, had not visited the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, altho' he'd been to The Alamo (originally a mission, too -- the first here) and other downtown historical attractions.

So we went out to the other four missions, starting with Mission San Francisco de la Espada ("Espada" for short), the furthest away from the city center, in the most rural setting and probably my favorite of the missions. The chapel door has a Moorish-style arch. Dennis even remarked about the Moorish look as we approached it. It looks like straight out of The Alhambra in Spain. Inside, the kneeling bench on the back of each pew is covered with sarape material -- very colorful! There are statues of Jesus, Mary and behind the communion table, Saint Francis of Assissi (in Spanish San Francisco de Asis). How a mission named after such a peace-loving saint got the tag de la Espada (of the sword) is still somewhat of a mystery; several suggestions have been proposed. A most likely one is that the statue's empty hands, which are positioned as if they once held some long object, MAY have held a sword (for whatever reason -- St. Francis as defender of the true faith???).

Then it was on to San Juan Capistrano (not the mission of the swallows song, tha one's in California), San José y San Miguel de Aguayo and Concepción. It was great to view all the missions again. (The two furthest away are nowhere near VIA bus lines.) So, even tho' it was a very hot afternoon, it was an enjoyable and informative tour, for both of us. Especially when we were visiting the grist mill at San Jose, and got in on a Park Ranger guide's explanation of the millstones used for grinding grain.

On our way back into the central city, I gave Dennis directions for driving us past the fourth mission in the park: Misión Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción, Mission Concepcion for short. We slowly drove thru the parking lot and down Mission Road, viewing the unrestored stone place of worship with its twin towers and central dome. The acoustics in this, the oldest unrestored church building in these United States, have been compared to the terrific acoustics of the Mormon Tabernacle! We did not go in; I got the impression that Dennis was tired from the overwhelming wealth of information at these, the greatest jewels in in San Antonio's treasure chest. (I had made this "greatest jewels" in the city's "treasure chest" in an earlier posting.)

Yup, there is much to see and learn of San Antonio's matchless spiritual and historical heritage in the San Antonio Missions NHP!

Thursday, July 13, 2006

As the Train Rolls & the World Turns

No, dear reader, I'm not trying to make some alteration to a certain long-running soap opera (my dear, sainted mother-in-law's fave). Rather, herein I'm simply presenting some ruminations about life, particularly as I'm experiencing it now in this Summer of Ought Six.

("Ruminations". . . well, I hope you know the meaning of this word; if not, please consult Webster. . . & I shall try to avoid such words.)

"As the Train Rolls" refers to my summer job as Conductor & Depot Agent aboard the Fiesta Texas Railroad. This work -- if "work" it can be called since it's so fun -- is radically different from my summer work of the past two, which was at the Front Gate to Fiesta Texas. Then & there I interviewed in-coming Guests (a demographic survey for marketing purposes) for five hours, & then left the park at two in the afternoon. But on the train my hours vary (& every week are more than the hours I averaged at the Front Gate).

On days I work both shifts, I have to leave my room before 7 AM (to be sure I get to the theme park well before my 9:30 AM clock-in) and do not get back until 10 PM or later. Doesn't leave much time for other activities "as the world turns". Get up. . . pray. . . go to work. . . ride the rails. . . get back on the bus. . . flop into bed. I'm not complaining. And PLEASE don't feel sorry for me! Remember: 1) this description is true ONLY when I do a double shift and 2) this job is FUN regardless!

Nevertheless, I get the feeling often this summer, that the train IS my life. And I certainly do not want that to be reality. So I seem to especially relish it when I enter fully into other aspects of my life. My Mexican church on the Westside, the local Emmaus community (officially called a "Fourth Day Group") of Care Bexar, the monthly trip down IH-35 to Dilley for the Kairos Prison Ministry's Prayer & Share with the inmates of the Dolph Briscoe Unit. . .

Notice how these all are "faith-based" activities, to use the current politically-correct term? I prefer to say that these activities are my endeavors to allow Almighty God to use me to minister His grace to others and live out the Good News of His love, revealed to us humans in His written word (Old & New Testaments) and perfectly in His Living Word, the Nazarene Jesus the Christ. Yup, Christ first-last-& always is my goal! I'd appreciate your prayers, my brother or sister in the faith, if you are such, reader.

Oh, and back to "Care Bexar". The name is a play on the name of San Antonio's county, Bexar ("BAYH - hahr" in correct Spanish, but pronounced by Anglos as tho' it lacked the "x"), and a very popular cartoon set of characters from the era when Care Bexar was set up as the first Emmaus community or FDG in this area. There are now seven such FDGs in what was the original Care Bexar coverage area.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Independence Day '06

Yesterday was Independence Day here in the USA. The first half of the day I worked at Fiesta Texas, my usual summer job. (Except that, as I've explained in an earlier posting, this summer I'm in a new position at the theme park: Conductor and Depot Agent on the Fiesta Texas Railroad, the park's train ride.)

The park was crowded with Guests, despite the overcast skies that before dawn had given San Antonio much-needed rainfall. The clouds cleared later in the morning, and other than it being a very hot and very, very humid day (typical in summer for Texas), it was pleasant. The train was nearly full just about every trip (after the first one or two).

Once I had been cleared at the end of my shift (mid-afternoon), I stayed in costume for awhile, and went looking for someone else in costume. She is Linda Kitshner, a middle-aged lady who worked with me last summer as an Interviewer at the front gate of the park. But this year Linda is working as a costumed character in Spassburg, the German-themed area of the park. (Spassburg means "Fun Town" in Deutsch.) She's dressed like a traditional frau, whose name is Ima - Ima Jermain-Ladee, that is! Ha, ha, Six Flags came up with a cute pun for THAT one!

Linda (aka "Ima") was doing crowd control of Guests who were lined up to get their picture taken with Peppie Le Pew in the Sangerfest Halle patio. Once she was done we two went to the front of Sangerfest Halle, so I could get another park employee to take our picture, Linda in her volksdeutsche frau costume and me in my train crew costume.

Having achieved this desired photo shoot I went to the wardrobe building and changed into street clothes, and then re-entered the park as a Guest. I attended a couple of our live music shows; these shows have won awards seven consecutive years for Fiesta Texas. In the evening we got treated to natural pyrotechnics just before the manmade pyros got started. I watched the latter fireworks from Los Festivales, the Mexican-village area of the park. Los Festivales presents colonial Spanish architecture and strings of colored lights over the streets; it's very beautiful at dusk. Here was a great way to celebrate the holiday!