Monday, December 31, 2007

Endings and beginnings '07 to '08

As the year draws to its end, and in a few hours we'll start the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Eight, or A.D. 2008, here are some musings about the year past, i.e., A.D. 2007.

It's been a "different" year, I suppose. . . heck, I don't "suppose", I know it!

How's it different, you may ask? Well, having a wedding in the family and thru this gaining a daughter-in-law -- THAT'S truly "different"! Regarding that, I took my FIRST trip out of the Lone Star State (see my post "My Summer Adventure, a Wedding, 27 June, about this) since daughter Sarah graduated from high school in Clarksville, Tennessee, in 2004. And even before son David wed Allison in June in Lincoln, Nebraska, "baby" brother Patrick gets assigned to renewed active duty Army service at Fort Sam Houston, here in San Antonio. His move here in February with wife LaRae FINALLY gives me family right smack here! Hooray!

Well, not so fast! Due to other Army influences on family, i.e., its deploying my (step-)nephew Zane to Iraq for his second tour there, the day after Christmas, again there was no family with whom to spend Christmas Eve or Day. For the seventh straight time! 'Nuf said about that sad situation. . . .

There were several "little" differences, mainly in certain aspects of recurring events. For example, having my brother and sister-in-law with whom to share birthdays (his and then mine, in March), the San Antonio Rodeo and Stock Show, a couple of Fiesta 2007 events, and the Missions games in quest of the '07 Texas League championship (which they won, see 17 September 2007 posting). I'd gotten used to taking in such delights solo, but I assure you that they're much more fun in the company of family!

One event not shared with family that was new to me was the Weinachtsfeier or German Christmas Party of the San Antonio Conservation Society (see 14 December post). Come to think of it, being a member of the Society was a difference, putting into reality something that should have been the case early on in my sojourn in S.A. I mean, me with my heart-felt love for history and culture and equally deep love for this city, I should have sought membership long before I did!

And then, there was my other "family", of Brothers in the Bond of Lambda Chi Alpha. Certainly participating in the historic first-ever tri-Zeta "White Rose Gala" with area LCA alumni and the three local chapters was VERY different! I'd never been to a shindig like this before, not even the "Crescent Girl Ball" of my own undergrad experience of the fraternity. The CG Ball was, after all, just us from the Idaho chapter plus a very few alumni. See my post of 14 April 2007 for details on the White Rose Gala.

Another difference involved my work at Fiesta Texas. After such a fun, fun, FUN summer of '06 working as Conductor and Depot Agent (Stationmaster) on the Fiesta Texas Railroad, work in the theme park in '07 was a real downer. The radical changes that Six Flags administration made regarding the train ride (abolishing our distinctive "railroad crew" uniforms and forcing everybody trained in this ride to also train on other rides and be ready to spend up to four hours in the hot sun without relief) drove away the older gentlemen -- all very experienced and wise about running the train as engineers and firemen, and all cherished co-workers of mine.

And the changes eventually drove me away, too. Only to find I'd gone from the frying pan into the fire! Working at the turnstiles into the park turned out to definitely NOT be for me! Thus, I ended up working three different positions in three different divisions of the park, instead of one (as in previous seasons).

Furthermore, even tho' I did get to see the "Lone Star Spectacular" laser and fireworks show several times (see 27 August post), I didn't really get to enjoy the re-named water park (not comprehending the significance of the mammal to Texans, new CEO Shapiro ordered that "Armadillo Beach" give way to "White Water Bay" -- "ho-hum!") or its wonderful wave pool Lone Star Lagoon, much if at all. And it seemed I was spending all my time at work, on the bus to & from, or sleeping in my efficiency. That is, not much time for other activities. Still. . . I did make that out-of-state trip on a long grey dog wearing a bus, to a wedding, as mentioned above!

And then there was "Holiday in the Park", the first "winter holidays" opening for Fiesta Texas since Six Flags took over the park. My Christmas Eve and Day may have been blue, but the remainder of the holiday season was full of the lights and songs in the park -- and indeed in the whole city -- which lifted my spirits!

And now, dear reader, may you have an uplifting and blessed A.D. 2008!

Final Weekend of '07

"Fast away the old year passes. . ." the lyrics go in "Deck the Halls". And indeed, the just-finished final weekend of the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Seven seemed to fly by! As if "Father Time" couldn't wait to get to Ought Eight!

Perhaps one explanation for the swift flying of the hours is that I was engaged in one of my favorite creative activities: preparing and then delivering a sermon. Choosing as my text the "Epistle" reading from the lectionary, the Letter to the Hebrews 2:10-18, I titled my message -- that is, the message the Lord gave me -- "Para Destruir el Imperio de la Muerte / To Destroy Death's Power".

Now please, dear reader, do not consider me vain about the correction above. I take sermon preparation seriously, and continually pray over it. I firmly believe that, from the salient features of a text that leap at me upon first reading, to the conclusion that gets crafted, I am submissive to God's working, so that the words of the message are more His than mine! It's really a very humbling experience!

That the sermon's title is in both languages (español and English) should reveal that the message is bilingual. Indeed, I again deliberately prepared the message as a code-switching exercise. The gist of the message is that the Babe of Bethlehem nació para morir; es decir, Jesus' purpose in being born on this Earth was to "give his life a ransom for many" (from Mark 10:45, my favorite Scripture verse) by dying for us on Golgotha. And delivering it Sunday morning at Mexican Christian Church (Disciples) was a true delight!

Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings I worked, as usual, at Fiesta Texas and its "Holiday in the Park." Let me tell you, being outside in Los Festivales (the first theme area entered past the turnstiles) before, during and after sunset is exquisite! As the sun sinks beneath the western horizon, the lights decorating the trees and edges of buildings become bright and beautiful. And the Christmas songs likewise lift the spirit! One of these may be titled "Welcome to Our World" -- the lyrics are indistinct, as the woman who sings it lacks the clear voice of a Karen Carpenter (two of whose songs are also in the recorded repertoire). From phrases of this soft lullaby that I've been able to hear, I gather that it's a welcoming to the Baby Jesus. I sure do hope I can find out more about the song!

After signing out of work Sunday nite I went to Take-a-Break, the employee cafeteria, to eat the "special", chicken cordon bleu. The meat portion of the dish was small and nothing to write home about, but the veggies (cheese potatoes and peas and carrots) sort of made up for it. Then I passed thru the interior door, into Sangerfest Halle to enjoy yet again the show "Happy Holidays". This one features a live band, mainly fellows from the country music shows band of Sundance Theater during the regular park season. I don't find the song repertoire notable; it's mostly very contemporary songs of Christmas. But still some are fun to sing along to, and the park's show brochure encourages singing along. What truly impresses me about this show is the frequent costume changes the four guys and four gals go thru during it! Having acted in a musical (as a volunteer cast member) years ago, I know the demands of making a quick change of costume backstage in order to speedily return front-and-center!

Once the show ends, I change back into my street clothes and exit thru the employee entrance. After the bus picks me up a foursome boards at the "Guest bus stop". They may be a mother and three sons; two of the young men wear Penn State shirts. Since Penn State won the Alamo Bowl the nite before, I congratulate them on the Nittany Lions football team's victory over the Texas A & M Aggies. Then I ask what part of Pennsylvania they're from. This commences a very nice conversation all the way to downtown, about Penn State and its terrific coach Joe Paterno, about San Antonio and their positive impressions of my hometown ("home" since January A.D. 2002, that is), and about comparisons between Fiesta Texas and Hershey Park and another themepark in their home state.

Downtown I get off the bus (the Pennsylvanians will get off closer to their hotel) and board the "line-up" bus to head home. Two or three stops down the line a couple get on -- and HE's sporting a Penn State shirt, too! Once again I give my congratulations and then query them on what part of the Keystone State they're from. Their home is Pottstown, which has connections with my Mom! So once again I enter into a delightful conversation. And when again I disembark, as for the earlier foursome I wish for them a safe trip home and add "Y'all come back soon now, ya hear?"

Monday, December 17, 2007

La Gran Posada

From my last posting you may have guessed, dear reader, that this Christmas of the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Seven, I'm revelling in Christmas customs of a Germanic origin. Well, yes. . . after all, many Christmas customs of these United States came here from Deutschland, to include the ubiquitous Christmas tree. I remember reading even that Martin Luther, the German clergyman who began the Protestant Reformation, commenced something to do with the holiday trees! I think perhaps it was the idea of putting lights on an evergreen (candles in his time, of course), to have it symbolize the "Light of Heaven" come down to Earth.

However, REMEMBER: this is San Antonio, Texas, the primary cultural root of which is chicano, Hispanic, Mexican-American (or whatever you wish to label it). My deepest love for all the diverse heritage of this city remains for that which sings or speaks en el español. And so, despite my new-found delight in Weihnachten (German Christmas), my favorite Christmas customs will remain those of Mexican origin. Such as drinking that wonderful Mexican hot chocolate, champurrado, and illuminating pathways with luminarias.

AND. . . I proclaim again my favorite Christmas tradition of all. From any cultural or national origin. La Gran Posada. Please read my description of this event, in last year's posting (23 December).

This year the re-enacted quest of Mary and Joseph for posada en Belén (shelter in Bethlehem), accompanied by a few hundred "fellow peregrinos (pilgrims)" singing villancicos (Spanish carols), had some special twists! For one, the first stop to sing the Posada song was at the brand-new Museo Alameda in El Mercado. Of course, even tho' the museum's representative gave us a nice speech, he still followed the adentro (inside) singer's stanzas and turned us away. Just as in earlier years' Gran Posadas, folk at Mi Tierra restaurant toward the other end of El Mercado had turned away Joseph, Mary and comrades.

Several minutes and a few more villancicos later, as the crowd was departing from the steps of City Hall, where the Mayor's wife, Mrs. Hardberger, had turned us away, a young lady stepped alongside me. She introduced herself as a reporter from the newspaper. She asked me journalistic-type questions about my participation in La Gran Posada. I gladly answered, delighted to share my deep love for San Antonio and her costumbres de Navidad (Xmas customs). At one question I intuitively observed that for me, "La Gran Posada IS Christmas!" A moment later, the reporter having bid me farewell and "Merry Christmas", I had a feeling that THAT remark would be in the next day's Express-News report on 2007's Posada. And it was! (See page 8A of Monday's paper; they misspelled my name, BUT quoted me verbatim.) Sometimes yours truly DOES say something worth quoting -- if I do say so myself!

We had our next-to-last stop in front of the fairly new Justice Center instead of the historic Bexar County Courthouse; construction has blocked off most of Main Plaza, which has the Courthouse on its south side and San Fernando Cathedral on its west. However, County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson gave the traditional greeting -- even while turning us away. Then, due to the curb in front of the Justice Center and that beside the Cathedral property, several strong chicanos lifted the cart topped by a full-size burro which "Mary" rode and beside which "Joseph" stood, down to the street and then up to the other sidewalk. Someone remarked that it was the first time they had seen a flying donkey! ¡Un burro volando! ¡Qué maravilla!

And as for San Antonio and its Gran Posada. . . ¡Qué felicísimo! Once we peregrinos entered San Fernando Cathedral and sang a couple more carols and "Feliz Navidad", it was time for kids to swing sticks at candy-filled piñatas in the Cathedral's courtyard and everyone to take refreshments in its café. For me the latter was a cup of champurrado (Mexican hot chocolate) and a small pastry.

As I departed this party ending La Gran Posada, I encountered Father David García, the cathedral's Rector. I congratulated him on his new assignment, just announced in the Express-News, to be the priest overseeing the old Spanish missions of San Antonio. He will take the place of Father Baltasar "Balty" Janacek, who passed away earlier this year. I told Fr. David that he had big shoes to fill, for Fr. Balty had a true passion for San Antonio's crown jewels! However, I shall pray for the Lord's help for him to fill those shoes, and I'm confident he shall fill them. For Father David's passion for lo mexicano is already evident in his advocacy of my favorite Christmas tradition of all traditions, La Gran Posada.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ein Weihnachtsfeier in San Antonio

Weihnachtsfeier is Deutsch (German) for "Christmas Party". And I attended a hum-dinger of a party yesterday evening, here in San Antonio!

Annually, a big event for the San Antonio Conservation Society is this German Christmas Party, celebrated in the Steves Homestead mansion, built 1876. The front balcony is hung with gracefully curving Christmas garlands, and poinsettias and a Santa statuette grace the front porch. And inside the historic home of Edward and Johanna Steves there are plenty of Christmas trees of all sizes and decorating. Late in the party I discover that one of the smaller trees, set on an antique table, was done in an old style, of painting feathers green and wrapping them around a small stick to form the branches (the feathers bushed out as they were wound). These were hung with some decorations that had belonged to Johanna Steves (the Homestead's initial "lady of the house"). A couple were of tin, such as an angel and some "icicles"; they were definitely ornaments that would have gone back to her life time (died 1930s). Other ornaments were of thin glass, many with hollows in them lined with silvery fluting. These immediately caused me to remember ornaments I hung on our family Christmas tree as a boy!

There was food everywhere, in almost all the main-floor rooms: cookies, finger sandwiches and fixin's for other small sandwiches (using small croissants), cakes and other pastries and fruit. Yum-m-m, yum! For liquid refreshment we had coffee, wines white and red -- and a superb eggnog with had added ingredients of ice cream and Jack Daniel. M-m-m, hm-m-m!

As I surveyed the large crowd in attendance -- probably 90% of the ground floor space not already occupied by furnishings had folk standing -- I could tell that this is definitely the best-attended member meeting of the year for the Conservation Society. And as I noticed how many were garbed in Christmas apparel items (sweaters, ties, etc.) I decided to roam the crowd and count how many men were wearing, like me, a Christmas necktie. I probably counted a few ties twice so let's just say, dear reader, that it was in the lower twenties out of about 30-35 men.

In one of the front rooms, which had a floor-to-ceiling Christmas tree in a side bay window and a grand piano, there was singing. A couple of Afro-American fellows, including a talented piano player, and two Anglo young ladies regaled us with Christmas carols and songs. None in Deutsch, alas! But on the ornate center table of that room were printed booklets that contained scores with lyrics of popular carols, and we of the crowd got to sing along. And I lu-u-u-v to sing!

This evening Weihnachtsfeier was simply a supreme delight for yours truly. As I sat eating some goodies next to another male member of the Society "tied" for Christmas, I mentioned that I could have come last year, having been granted associate membership, but that the date had somehow passed me by. (Easy to do in the busy month of December, right?)

"Well, you'll have to make up for lost time, then," he suggested.

"I'm doing my best!" was my reply.

Fröhliche Weihnachten! Merry Christmas, y'all!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Saturday "showtime"

This past Saturday I had several things in mind to do. Things didn't go quite as I planned -- they went better!

It began Friday nite, when I opened my mail. The newsletter from Alamo Heights Christian Church (Disciples) had a notice that there would be a memorial service for Ed Zink the next day at one. I had been told about Ed's passing away and the Saturday service at choir practice -- but hadn't written this down when I got home and had forgotten. Until I read the newsletter. It was one more thing to do, but one I very much wanted to do.

You see, my first Christmas as a San Antonio resident Ed, an elder emeritus at AHCC and one who faithfully attended Sunday worship (even while needing aid of a walker), invited me to spend Christmas (or Christmas Eve) at his home. His son Jeff, a "special" guy who lived with Ed and also a member of the church, was there, along with sister Deniece and a large dog. Ed loved dogs. The house, on an acreage north of Windcrest, an incorporated suburb in northeastern Bexar County, was a charming, older rural home. It had been a true delight to spend the day with the Zinks!

Before attending the memorial service I did errands, including checking my e-mail and doing brief Web surfing. At "Voices", a blog of my fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha, a regular contributor had posted about the significance of Thanksgiving for him personally. His was such good reading that I came to this, my blog site, and copied off my post about Thanksgiving '06 to contribute as a comment (or reply) at his "Voices" posting. I inserted a couple of phrases to make my words of a year ago more inclusive our our common Brotherhood -- for which I am always thankful!

After doing the blogging and other errands I returned home, quickly changed into a suit and tie (apparel I seldom wear on Saturdays) and took the bus to AHCC for the Ed Zink memorial service. Both his son and daughter were there (Ed had been buried in Ohio), as were several folk with whom he had worked years earlier in the geological engineering field and the oil industry. The service was nice and for the most part uplifting. still, my head leaked a little, as we listened to a poem about Ed which our Pastor read and written by a sister (who wrote poems about all family members!). It described a special kindness Ed had done for her during an illness. I'm glad I was at the memorial service, to give my respects to the memory of this brother in Christ who had done me the kindness of sharing his home and family during my first S.A. Christmas!

Then it was back to the efficiency, to change back out of the suit and tie and resume work on some agapé I was preparing for Men's Walk to Emmaus #1413. This was a Walk for which I had wanted to be on the team before the Lord pointed me in the direction of doing team work on Kairos Weekend #2 at Briscoe. However, this Walk featured David McNitzky as Spiritual Director (SD also on my Pilgrim Walk, #327), and would be the final Walk presented by Care Bexar before my Fourth Day Group goes inactive. So I yearned to go to Candlelight and contribute in other ways. While I made my agapé, I listened for the phone to ring with a call from Sharon, a former Lay Director for Care Bexar with whom I'd spoken earlier concerning getting a ride to Candlelight. I also took just a few minutes to phone other possible attendees for Candlelight -- only to find out that every one of them had other plans -- holiday season plans -- for the evening.

After I got the call from Sharon, and had discussed and then dropped the idea (her suggestion) of using VÍA bus routes to get across town to be picked up on the way to Kerrville, I got an unexpected call from Howard, a Pilgrim from Walk #1005 ,the first Walk on which I had served on a Team. He was going, too, and arranged to meet Sharon and me at my place.

Then I returned to hurriedly finishing the agapé, colored index cards with a packet of Splenda sweetener taped to the middle. Above the packet I wrote "A 'Walk to Emmaus' with Jesus is simply", and if one lifted the packet one read "Splenda" under it! That way, should a Pilgrim or Teamer wish to actually use the sweetener in their Sunday morning coffee, the agapé card would still make sense! Agapé often include such puns, and when I tho't up this one I considered it very good. Agapé, to refresh your memory, dear reader, is Greek for "unconditional love" -- the highest love, divine love -- and in Cursillo movements such as Emmaus and Kairos the word signifies deeds done or items given to express God's love for the retreat participants. I finished the cards just in time, as first Howard and then Sharon arrived!

Now consider: I'd invited Howard or given him permission to ride along with Sharon and me without asking her first. So I was nervous. But. . . God is good -- all the time! All the time -- God is good! The journey to and from Candlelight at Mt. Wesley was a wonderful time of conversation, and dining at a Mexican restaurant in Kerrville before arriving at the camp. When we arrived we saw that some of the camp's live oak trunks were decorated with those nets of Christmas lights that have become so popular. It was a beautiful and appropriate display of light!

And Candlelight itself was beautiful, delightful and a blessing! The numerous Emmaus community members present were treated to a fine Emmaus worship with a rousing sermon from one of our Emmaus clergy. When Team and Pilgrims of #1413 joined us, it truly seemed like we were in Heaven! I was delighted to see four Team fellows in total whom I knew, including not only David but also William Clarke (co-Team member onWalk #1327). It truly seemed that my head threatened to leak a good one! This Candlelight for the final Care Bexar-sponsored Walk was that special for yours truly!

So. . . whence the "showtime" in my title for this post? Well, honestly, most of the activities on this Saturday contained an element of entertainment, so in that general sense the title fits. But I give it the added significance that for all I experienced this day I needed to set aside time to SHOW some heartfelt thanks to Abba our celestial Daddy and God, for SHOWING his goodness -- all the time! And particularly on this Saturday of Saturdays!

And so, "Thanks, ABBA!" O en español -¡Muchísimas gracias, Papá celestial!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Holiday season: family, lights, sounds

This holiday season of A.D. 2007 is turning out to be different yet still special (or memorable) for yours truly. By "holiday season" I mean everything from Thanksgiving Day to the end of the year/ New Year's.

To include today, St. Nicholas Day. In some cultures and countries around the world this day of 6 December is THE DAY for gift-giving (alternatively, Epiphany or 6 January serves for gift-giving). St. Nicholas, who definitely WAS a REAL person (as in "yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus"), became renown for his generosity -- and hence he's the patron of gift-giving. I like this idea of 6 December (or 6 January) being the gift day, because it keeps the focus of 25 December on the coming of God to Earth as the firstborn baby of Mary of Nazareth, delivered in humble surroundings in Bethlehem. Let me add that Spanish-speaking areas are among those which do the afore-mentioned gift-giving (on today or 6 January).

BUT. . . let me back up! I just defined the "holiday season" as commencing with Thanksgiving Day. And this year for the first time in seven I got to spend this very family-oriented holiday -- can you sing "over the river & thru the woods to grandmother's house we go'? -- with blood relatives! Yep, I was over on Fort Sam with "baby" brother Patrick, his wife LaRae and he youngest son, Zane, and his new wife, Misty. And my sister-in-law is a TERRIFIC cook! I cherished every minute of being there in Patrick's quarters celebrating Thanksgiving Day with family!

Now, don't get me wrong. I appreciate that the "Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner" is put on in the Convention center, for folk who don't have family with whom to celebrate. I've been there and deeply appreciated and enjoyed it -- but nothing can beat family (in the blood relative sense) for spending such holidays as Thanksgiving.

You will notice that I do not call it "Turkey Day". Indeed, I get livid with anger whenever I hear anyone call it such. The day IS NOT about eating turkey and stuffing ourselves with other special foodstuffs! It's about giving thanks! (See my posting of 27n November 2006 about this.)

Now I'm beginning to enjoy the Advent-Christmas season. For details on why observing these holidays of December in San Antonio is so special, see my postings of 23 and 26 December 2006. Yep! this "Party City" has so-o-o-o many ways and means of observing holidays of December -- to include, let's not forget, Our Lady of Guadalupe Day on the 12th -- that it took TWO postings to cover even the ones with which I'm most familiar.

The lights shine brightly again, on the Incarnate Word campus, at Fiesta Texas for "Holiday in the Park" and the Riverwalk. And elsewhere. See my posting of 23 December A.D. 2006 for details. May all these Christmas lights of S.A. reflect the light of Christ shining on the world! Especially on this city that Spanish Franciscan missionaries founded on 1 May A.D. 1718 as a mission station for spreading the Gospel and civilization among the native Coahuiltecans.

Best of all, I look forward to spending Christmas or Christmas Eve with family here in San Antonio! (They will be brother Patrick, his wife LaRae & Dad's flying in from Boise.) For the first time in six Christmases! Family will make this Christmas of A.D. 2007 extra special!!!

FM radio station Q-101.9, lite rock, is again playing only Christmas songs, and even KKYX-AM 680, classic country music, has broadcast a couple of Christmas tunes, of country & Western artists, of course. One "country Christmas" song that really gets to me is "Conrad's Christmas Guest". It's a recitation by the late Grandpa Jones of Grand Ole Opry and Hee Haw fame, with soft background music, about an elderly cobbler (I'd imagine a German fellow in a small town over in Germany). He gets excited because he dreamed that the Lord told him He would visit him on Christmas Day. For further details about "Conrad's Christmas Guest" see my posting of 26 December of last year. Here let me add that the moral of the story is that "love is the greatest gift of all". Amen!

Too, in many public places the sound systems are broadcasting the "songs of the season". The places include, of course, Fiesta Texas -- opened again this year for "Holiday in the Park" (after several years absence of a winter season). Most of the "songs of the season" broadcast in the park are secular; a couple are of the humorous genre, such as "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." On a more sentimental side, Guests and employees will hear the late Karen Carpenter (of The Carpenters) sing "Merry, Christmas, Darling".

On the other hand, in Texas State Square toward the rear of Los Festivales Mexican-theme area (one goes left to the Spassburg German area or right to Crackaxle Canyon's Western theme) there's an instrumental-music show blaring in loud volume at intervals. All the music is recorded Trans-Siberian Orchestra, I think. Strings of light on the square's colonnade, "light trees" atop it and a huge structure resembling a wrapped gift in the center, shine out and change colors in choreography to this music. Some songs played are spiritual, such as "Ring Christmas Bells".

Finally, let's not forget that malls and grocery stores alike are spreading holiday cheer also, via the recorded music -- Muzak? -- that permeates their buildings!

. Ring Christmas bells, merrily ring. . .
. Tell all the world, "Jesus is King!"

Monday, November 19, 2007

God really IS -- and He's in prison!

In my previous posting did I state that November to that point had been a busy month? Well, I wrote that knowing full well that the most significant happenings of the eleventh month were yet to come!

I've just returned from prison. At this point, dear reader, you might want to go back almost a year in my postings (early December of A.D. 2006) and take in my report about the first Kairos Prison Ministry Weekend retreat held in the Dolph Briscoe (prison) Unit near Dilley, Texas. Read what a tremendous event that one was!

I've just returned from prison. Earlier this year I had desired to serve on a Team for a Walk to Emmaus such as the Men's Walk my own Emmaus Fourth day Group, Care Bexar, will do next month. But that Walk got closed to me. I happened to be in a situation to inquire about another Walk, and again the door wasn't open for my participation. It was definitely God saying, "No!" He wanted me to serve instead on a Kairos Weekend, specifically, Briscoe #2 which had been delayed from the Spring by a lock-down in the prison.

I've just returned from prison. When I arrived last Wednesday afternoon at the Dilley American Legion Hall, our outside-the-prison base of ops for the weekend retreats, I was anticipating that the Lord would bless this retreat just like He blesses all Kairos weekends, but nevertheless it wouldn't be as awesome as the first Briscoe Kairos had been. Well, let me tell you, dear reader, it clearly matched #1 for awesomeness of the Holy Spirit's working!

Despite Briscoe #2 lacking the excitement mixed with uncertainty that is always part of presenting a program or event for the first time in a new place. Despite lacking a couple of the details that were (supposedly) integral to Briscoe #1. Despite the cooks among the ladies of the Outside Team grousing about the lack of a functioning reefer. (Smile.) And despite me forgetting several small items in my packing; the only crucial thing was my meds. (Smile again.)

The Prayer Circle that is done during the final Team Formation Session on Thursday morning seemed to finish up more quickly than it had on my three earlier services on Kairos Teams (Torres #9 & #11 as well as Briscoe #1). Nevertheless, it was just as deeply moving a spiritual exercise as it always is!

On the other hand, my writing of my "love letters" to the 42 Candidates ("love" in the agapé sense) took just as long as usual. I only had a couple written upon arrival Wednesday. The last two didn't get written until early Saturday morning. We're supposed to submit the letters for the Outside Team to place in bags for each of the Candidates when we come for breakfast then -- I didn't dare eat a bite 'til I'd stuffed those last two in their envelops! (Smile again.)

On Thursday afternoon, when we Inside Team men enter the prison's gym where we conduct the retreat, we're greeted by the some twenty Stewards (or Servants). They are men in white (TDCJ inmates wear all-white uniforms) who were candidates on an earlier Kairos Weekend and get the call to serve. Big smiles and big hugs all around! I'm delighted that two of the brothers in white from St. Luke Family of #1 (I was Table Clergy for them) are serving as Stewards. I'm assigned two Sponsorees -- meaning that I greet two Candidates when they first enter the gym, lead them to the food table and then sit down and get acquainted with them. As Sponsor (or Host), each morning I also greet them as they enter and lead them to their Family Table in the conference room, check on them occasionally thru'out the retreat to see how they're doing, and take any prayer request from the Sponsoree back to the base of ops to give to the lady assigned to be the Candidate's "prayer partner".

My two are Andy Longoria and Luis López. They're already acquainted with each other. Luis and I are both in the St. Peter Family; in fact, he sits at my right hand. He'd been identified as being one of two Spanish-only speakers, but even tho' he's from Guatemala he'd been in the 'States 14 years and could understand and speak English adequately. (However, Luis finds taking notes during the ten Talks difficult, so I scribe for him in Spanish, as I'd scribed for a Spanish-only speaker from Zacatecas, Mexico, on Kairos Torres #11.) The identified Spanish-only speaker who really IS Spanish-only (a couple others certainly lean toward Spanish-only!) sits directly across the St. Peter table from me, next to our bilingual Table Leader, Jaime Gonzales. He's Porfirio Enríquez, natural de México, whose first name was misspelled on two successive name tags! ¡Pobre Porfirio!

After the one-on-one get-acquainted time, we form a square "u" and each man -- Candidate, Steward or free-world volunteer -- introduces himself to the entire group, by answering a specific set of five questions, including where he's from and why he's in this Kairos retreat. We get to Bill Havard, who is my motel roommate or "cellie" to use the inmates' jargon, he steps forward and points specifically to three of the Stewards as the reason why he's here! (He had attended Closing of #1, and just like me when I went to Closing for Torres #8, the Candidates' testimony to the positive and awesome effect of the Weekend on them had "hooked" him.) It hits me as I listen to Bill that his words are surely impressive witness to the Candidates that not only will the Weekend have strong impact on them but that they themselves can be influential in their response to it! And then, two different Candidates at their turn make sort of confession and break down in tears before us all. But. . . tears aren't supposed to be shed until they get their bags of "love letters" on Saturday afternoon! Wow!

Well, I could go on and on about the work of Christ our Savior and Friend (or work of the Holy Spirit or work of God, take your pick -- they're the same in my book) during the three full days of Kairos Briscoe #2. But how'd I end? As in Emmaus, Kairos has its Fourth Day, which lasts for the rest of one's life! However, I'll summarize by affirming that I came to deeply love each and every brother in white (including Stewards), just as deeply as I love all my fellow free-world Team members (remember, I mean agapé love). The Candidates truly made themselves vulnerable fairly early in the scheme of the Weekend. Luis, Porfirio and the four other St. Peter brothers in white have an extra special place in my heart, I suppose, just as do the six of St. Luke on Briscoe #1. . . .

And I also declare and testify the following. If I ever, EVER hear some atheist say, "God does not exist", I shall firmly respond, "God most certainly DOES exist, and if you'll go with me to Briscoe Prison I'll introduce you to Him!"

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A veteran plays tour guide

Well, well, well! This month of November in the Year of Our Lord two thousand seven has been BUSY and EVENT-FILLED! Herein I simply wish to touch on a very few of these happenings.

First, I got to play "tour guide" twice -- today and last Tuesday. Last week my mother was here to visit; she stayed at Patrick and LaRae's quarters on Fort Sam. Brother's residence must have been crowded, because others with whom Mom had come from Idaho also stayed there. (My efficiency hardly has room for me, and NO privacy!) One of these folks was LaRae's mother (Patrick's mother-in-law). With Patrick as driver the two moms and I took the so-called "Mission Trail" from The Alamo out to the other four old Spanish missions which form San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. We stopped at each mission and toured it, with yours truly serving as the informal, or volunteer, tour guide. In my talks I emphasized a trait or characteristic of each of the missions which was unique (distinctive) to that mission.

For example, the first of the N.H.P. missions, Concepción, features the ONLY one of the five missions churches that has not needed to be significantly restored. It has remained intact since the mid-1700s -- making Concepción the OLDEST unrestored church building in these United States!

The second mission, San José, presents numerous distinctives; among them, it has the main visitor center for the whole park and it's the most completely-restored of the mission compounds. Each mission originally had a surrounding fortress-wall (to protect against hostile Lipan Apache tribe) enclosing residences of the mission Indians (from Coahuiltecan bands of former hunter-gatherers), workshops, residences for Spanish soldiers and missionaries, as well as the church sanctuary proper. San Jose is called the "Queen of the Spanish Missions" -- of San Antonio, of Texas, of the borderland Southwest. Its famous "Rosa's Window" -- NOT a "rose window" of the European cathedral-style (round and stained-glass) but rather a stone window frame in ornate Spanish Baroque style -- has been termed the most beautiful work of art remaining from the Spanish colonial era.

We four also visited the outermost missions, San Juan de Capistrano (NOT the one of song and swallows -- that one's on the West Coast) and San Francisco de la Espada. This latter mission is probably my favorite of the five, and definitely would be my fave (with no competition from San José) were it more accessible. (It's a mile or more away from the nearest VÍA bus routes, and as you know I have no car.) Mission Espada's distinctive feature is its very remoteness which gives a visitor more of the "feel" of a mission as it was while actively converting native Coahuiltecans into good Catholic Christians and good subjects of the distant King of Spain.

As it turned out, the stop at Mission San José was appropriate rehearsal for the tour I did today. As an associate member of the San Antonio Conservation Society, I had volunteered to take a day off from sub-teaching to be a SACS tour guide for a group of fourth-graders on a history tour of San Antonio. My assigned school was Castle Hills Elementary in the close-in suburban city of Castle Hills. The city is astride Loop 410 North between Blanco Road and West Avenue. At the school I met four teachers and their students. Two classes got on one tour bus and the other two and yours truly boarded the other. There was a bit of confusion over the itinerary -- were BOTH buses to go to the same tour sites at the same time? Too late we found out "No" -- after a driving tour of attractions in downtown, including passing The Alamo, we showed up at Steves Homestead and found out our bus was supposed to have gone to Mission San José first! So away we went again, passing Misión Concepción on the way. Docent-led tours are available at the "Queen of the Missions", but on last week's visit we four were told that those tours lasted forty-five minutes. The two moms didn't feel up to that long a walk, so after watching a twenty-minute movie in the Visitor Center, called "Gente de Razón/People of Reason" about the Coahuiltecans who gathered at and built the missions, and their present-day descendants (who often are members of the parishes that these missions have become) I served as guide for a shorter tour of the mission compound.

On that occasion I became distressed that a statue of Fray Antonio Margil which had been in the church's sacristy was gone! Friar Margil, often called "the Apostle of New Spain", founded Mission San José in 1722. He did this near the end of many eventful years of missionary service that had taken him from his native Valencia, Spain, across the Atlantic to Veracruz, up to the capital city (México) and down to Guatemala and back and then down to what is now Costa Rica, and up to northwest-central Mexico, and finally to east and south Texas as it was in Spanish times. He did most of his travels walking "barefoot" (in light sandals rather than sturdy shoes or boots) and NOT by mule or on a donkey! Yet in the midst of his prodigious missionary efforts he made time to be president of one Franciscan missionary school (el colegio de Santa Cruz de Querétaro) and founder of another (el colegio de Guadalupe de Zacatecas) -- and to write numerous letters about his work as a missionary and its challenges! Fray Antonio's letters have been gathered and translated in a book titled "Nothingness Itself" (the customary signature this humble servant of Christ used on most of the letters), which I possess and greatly enjoy reading.

Can you tell that I strongly consider this Spanish Franciscan friar and missionary to be a great "hero of the faith"? No wonder that I was distressed to not find his statue in the sacristy to proudly show off to my party!

Anyhow... back to today's fourth-grade tour. Knowing that we were behind time due to the earlier schedule error, I felt it would be better for me to again play tour guide -- and I certainly wasn't reticent about it! One of the most fun jobs I ever had was "tour coordinator" at Grand Ole Opry Tours office at Opryland USA in Nashville in the late 1990s. In addition to selling tickets for everything available at Opryland or in the city under the name of Gaylord Entertainment, I served as "step-on guide" for groups that came in their own buses and needed a tour guide to take them on one of our prescribed tours of Music City. And the very best part of the job was serving as tour guide for the walking tour we scheduled two or three times a day of the Grand Ole Opry House itself. I simply lu-u-uved showing visitors my favorite venue in Tennessee and telling them the entertaining story of the oldest radio show still in existence (pun intended)! Hence, I leapt at the opportunity to show off my favorite venue of San Antonio to these fourth-graders from Castle Hills!

Following the tour of the mission we returned to the Steves Homestead to do THAT tour. I gladly deferred to a docent to guide us there. I'm not all that familiar yet with this Victorian mansion (built in 1876) that was home to the Steves (pronounced something like "SHTEH-fehs" in Deutsch), one of the prominent German families of San Antonio of the late Nineteenth Century and up to today. Many Deutsch immigrants built their homes where the Steves did, in the King William neighborhood just south of the city's center. King William was the first "exclusive" or "silver-spoon" neighborhood of the Alamo City, and also the first area to be declared a National Historic District!

All in all, this tour was just as enjoyable and memorable as the one a week earlier.

But wait! Dear reader, you're wondering about the "veteran" in my title, no doubt. Well, sandwiched between the two Tuesday tours this vet celebrated Veterans Day weekend. Some institutions took Monday off in observance of the holiday. But most remained open, and the Veterans Day Parade of San Antonio, as usual, was on Saturday (the Tenth). This year I also attended the wreath-laying ceremony in front of the church at The Alamo. Among the program's participants a Chaplain from Fort Sam offered the invocation; I spoke briefly with him afterward about my own service as Army chaplain, before he and the others in the program walked the few yards to the assembly area for the parade. I stayed at The Alamo to watch as the parade marched by.

Next day, Sunday the Eleventh, the REAL Veterans Day, I made sure to run the American flag up the flagpole in front of Mexican Christian Church. The Sundays nearest national holidays I do this; as long as we have the national colors (the church actually has two American flags) and chicanos are notable for their patriotism, I feel strongly that we OUGHT to fly those colors at least to observe national holidays! Raising the flag presented more of a challenge this time; there was a stiff breeze and as I raised the larger of the two flags it threatened to fly away in that wind, with yours truly in tow! Thank goodness, lowering it after worship was much easier!

So. . . now you know why I apply the two descriptive labels to myself in the title of this posting. Hasta luego, amigo ("See you later, friend").

Monday, October 29, 2007

An Awesome Weekend!

Over the year and a half (plus) that I've been keeping this blogsite, I've entered more than one entry about a very memorable weekend of events. The weekend just past is different, somehow. "Wonderful" or "memorable" or similar words just don't fit the bill to describe it. I choose "awesome" because the hand of the Lord working on me and thru me was SO EVIDENT!.

Actually, it commenced ordinarily en'uf. Sort of. I.e., "Friday nite lites" took place, only I didn't attend any football game, not even the Mules playing at home in Heights. You see, I got socked with a fierce cold in mid-week, after we had a "blue norther" blow thru on last Monday. Altho' I was feeling much better by Friday afternoon and the weather had also recovered to "perfect football weather", I didn't want to risk a relapse should a biting wind spring up. So I stayed home and listened, mostly to the Mules' romp over the Memorial Minutemen (55-0), but also to the Rockets' win (at their home stadium) over Robert E.Lee H.S.

For three days I prayed for the Lord to relieve me of the cold, and for as many I prayed for His Spirit in my sermon preparation for Sunday the 28th. I had been asked to preach at Mexican Christian Church, even tho' it wasn't a Fifth Sunday, because there were a special event the day before at the church and another just a week or so earlier elsewhere, that occupied the Pastor's time. As usual, I went first to the lectionary readings; the Gospel reading was Luke 18:9-14, Jesus' parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in prayer at the Temple. Humility is a subject of which I cherish to preach, but nothing notable had come to my mind by Saturday morning. THEN that changed in a hurry!

Before dawn I hopped into a van driven by my brother in Christ and in Kairos ministry, Paul Smith, and loaded with other men, to head southwest down IH-35 to Cotulla. This small county-seat town beyond Dilley was to be site of the third Team Formation meeting for us on Kairos Weekend #2 for the Dolph Briscoe Prison. If you've been reading my blog all along (or at least for a year), you know what an awesome event Weekend #1 turned out to be! And I've all confidence in our Lord, that He will use us to make #2 just as much a "Wow!"

Meeting site was the Methodist Church in Cotulla, home church of Jim Daniel, Lay Director for Kairos Briscoe #2. It was a distinctive structure, white with green gables and trim, and an arcade (arched walkway) with courtyard (un patio, in Spanish) behind it between the sanctuary and the fellowship where we met. Interesting! Kind of a Spanish style , at least in layout.

Theme for this formation meeting (I had missed the other two due to work schedule) was "Humility". This was no mere coincidence, because all thru the session ideas for the sermon with the same theme kept coming to mind. Also impressing on me was pondering of "Lord, what have I to contribute? I know my limitations and faults and so do You." The response of the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:13) cropped up: "I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me." It's NOT about me; Kairos is about being Christ's arms and legs (and voice) for the 42 Candidates who will experience Kairos Briscoe #2. As we departed for the journey back home I felt refreshed and ready to go and serve on the weekend (15-18 November).

After being dropped off by Paul & company at my room and going out briefly to run an errand, I popped a movie DVD into the laptop player Mom had given me. I needed to finish watching this one because it and the other movie were to be due on Monday. The two movies are the Western classic "The Magnificent Seven" and its Japanese original "Seven Samurai", by renown director Akira Kurosawa. I had seen the Western several years ago, probably on a movie-classic channel such as AMC. That it had a Jap precursor leapt out at me at that viewing. I'd read comparison/contrast of the two in my on-again-off-again research into the Westerns, or "oaters", genre of films. So when I saw that both movies were available in the S.A. public library system I requested both.

By this point (Sat. eve.) I'd already seen "Seven Samurai" and about half of "The Magnificent Seven". One thing that astounded me -- despite my years-earlier viewing -- is the theme music of this Western; its lush orchestration not infrequently enters my mind while I'm walking somewhere on a sunny day. I had considered that the music playing in my mind was either from the Marlboro commercials or from TV Western "Gunsmoke"! So the source being "The Magnificent Seven" took me by pleasant surprise. Just as pleasant as the music itself! Isn't it remarkable, dear reader, that the usual theme music for Westerns (silver-screen or TV) features vivid orchestra music rather than the perhaps-expected solo guitar and/or harmonica?

In case you know nothing of this classic Western or its Jap original, the plot for both is that a village of farmers (in remote Japan in the one and borderland Mexico in the other) is suffering depredations from a large gang of bandits led by a merciless chief. In desperation these peace-loving farmers turn to professional fighters to resist the bandits. In Japan it's the Samurai, traditional warriors of that society. In the Western version it's hired gunmen, led by Yul Brynner. (This last caught me by surprise on that earlier viewing of the Western; Brynner will ALWAYS be for me the actor who played exotic Oriental monarchs, the King of Siam and Pharaoh Ramesses -- and it was strange to see his bald head in a Western!)

As I watched the conclusion of "The Magnificent Seven" I could understand why it is considered a classic of the genre. I saw why it's also a pivotal film produced between the "golden-age" oaters (think, "Stagecoach" or "Shane" or a Randolph Scott flick) and the "spaghetti-westerns" of director Leoni and actor Eastwood, which became the death-knell of the Western. But what most kept leaping at me was that HERE was an opening illustration for my sermon of the morrow. Lift up those Mexican farmers as paragons of humility; they KNEW their limitations (when it came to combat) and were NOT too PROUD to ask for help (from professionals).

And so, Sunday morning I went to Mexican Christian Church and preached. And what a joy it was! Especially the cold symptoms were largely under control (at least until I went to give the closing benediction). I'm certain that a smile brightened my face all during Worship.

In my sermon one item was the upcoming Kairos Weekend retreat at Briscoe (remember what I said was the theme of Saturday's meeting?) and how anyone and everyone could assist. I laid out my Prayer Chain sign-up, and the cookie instructions. And got a few signers out of the typically small number of attendees. Later on this day, while riding the bus, it came to me that being a fourth Sunday it should be the monthly meeting for Emmaus people at Laurel Heights UMC. So I went by that church, and indeed it was Emmaus meeting day, plus youth-group meeting. So I got to address TWO more groups on this Lord's Day, about Kairos Prison Ministry, Weekend #2 at Briscoe, and the needs with which they could help.

Wow! What a way to end an AWESOME weekend!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Football + Music = busy weekend

Here's hoping that you, dear reader, aren't getting tired of my various postings about weekends loaded with activities. E.g., my second-most-recent posting is titled "Crowded Weekend. . . ." On the other hand, I might confess that I'm getting tired of writing these! "Tired" from all the activity available in this city whose middle name is "party" that is.

Considering that it's autumn now, the season not only of falling leaves but of "Friday Nite Lites", i.e. my beloved sport of high school football, it's no surprise that autumn weekends are so busy for me. And Friday nite I was at one exciting high school game while listening to an even more exciting one on my radio. Before my eyes the defending 4A Division I State Champs Alamo Heights Mules were opening District 27-AAAA play by hosting Fredericksburg. Ahead 10-7 at the half the Mules let the "Battlin' Billies" (billy-goats, that is) from the Hill Country get ahead 14-10 early in the third quarter after an interception near our goal line. But AHHS roared right down the field on the ensuing series, to regain the lead. We never gave that lead up again, but "Freds-town" kept it close to the end. Final score was Mules 24, Billies 17. Time for some cabrito!

Meanwhile, in my ears I listened to the Judson High Rockets come from behind at home in nearby Converse. Down 10-0 at the half, Coach Jim Rackley's team took the lead early in the third quarter, only to see visiting District 26-AAAAA rival Madison regain it. With a late field goal Judson tied the score. And then on the very final play of the game the Rockets' place kicker again drilled the pigskin thru the uprights, for a 20-17 Rockets victory! Whew!

The next day, Saturday, the Lanier HS Voks, the "Pride of the Westside", faced Sam Houston HS in Alamo Stadium. It was again a close game, with the winner in doubt 'til the "bitter end" one might say. But my Voks notched another victory in their quest for the District 28-AAAA title and/or a playoff spot.

However, much as I support the Voks and enjoy sports events in picturesque Alamo Stadium, I wasn't there. Instead, after clocking out from work at Fiesta Texas I went to the Take-a-Break Café (the employees cafeteria) and had the "special" for supper, while watching part of the LSU at Kentucky football game on the big-screen TV. LSU, one of my least-favorite football teams in the Southeastern Conference, was ahead when I began to watch. However, the University of Kentucky Wildcats, my next-favorite SEC team after Vandy and Georgia, scored a quick touchdown to come within six points of the Number One ranked Tigers. Later I heard that the Wildcats went on to defeat LSU in triple-overtime! It was one of two upsets of Top Ten teams that day, and one of a spate of upsets to this point in the season! Can you say, "parity"?

When I was done eating supper I took the bus downtown to historic La Villita and the International Accordion Festival. The first year I lived in San Antonio and learned about the festival I smirked, considered if Urkel (sp?) would be there, and then attended it and discovered what an amazingly versatile instrument the accordion is, and how many, many genres of music use it! On Saturday nite I went to the Arneson River Theater beside La Villita and enjoyed a group from San Francisco with FOUR accordions, called "Those Darn Accordions". The "Weekender" section of the Friday Express-News had commented that one might consider four squeezeboxes to be "overkill" but that the group actually began with many more than that! The article went on to say that their beginning consisted of musicians who played other instruments grabbing the "stomach Steinways" and going into places to perform informally -- until they would get kicked out. Hm-m-m! Sounds like even in "anything-goes" 'Frisco the squeezebox gets no respect!

However, I enjoyed "Those Darn Accordions" very much, especially when they did a humorous yet touching tribute to Lawrence Welk. The tribute presented the story of his progress in live entertainment with the accordion and mentioned several (perhaps all) the regular musical and singing artists oh his TV show -- one of my cherished memories from childhood.

I left the venue early in the evening, with the jolly sounds of the squeezebox still ringing in my appreciative ears, so I could get sufficient sleep. I wanted to be ready to sing in the choir at Alamo Heights Christian Church (Disciples) Sunday morning. This was the final Sunday for Janis Erwin, our dedicated, accomplished and inspiring choir director. We choir members had suggested that she choose the anthem for this final Sunday of her service. She chose "Make Your Life a Song to God", and as I practiced the lower-voice line before the rest of the group showed up, I mused that the message and happy tenor of this song were most appropriate for Janis' final Sunday.

. Make your life a song to God; sing loud and string and clear,
. Make your life a song to God for ev'ry-one to hear.
. Jesus will put the melody into your heart. . . .

The song leading into the pastoral prayer was changed from the one we had practiced on Wednesday, to "Come and Find the Quiet Center", words by S.E. Murray and set to the tune Beach Spring, based on a traditional American melody.

. Come and find the quiet center in the crowded life we lead,
. Find the room for hope to enter,
. Find the frame where we are freed,
. Clear the chaos and the clutter, clear our eyes to see
. All the things that really matter,
. Be at peace and simply be.

Sort of post-hippie lyrics, but still a good theme is expressed here: quiet and silence are all the more important in this chaotic, noisy, angry society in which we now live. The third and final verse also has a surprising and catchy phrase about "the Spirit's lively scheming". That word "scheming" usually has a negative intention when applied to a human, but combined with "lively" it may just apply to the divine Spirit -- and in a positive way!

There was a "farewell" reception for Janis right after worship, in the church's spacious lobby. Lots of visitors and irregular attenders were present. In the former category were Lynn and Neena McChesney; he was one of my roommates on my Pilgrim Walk to Emmaus, Men's #327 back in A.D. 1993, and now volunteers in Kairos Prison Ministry, in the Torres Unit near Hondo. In the latter category would be Janis' husband, Dr. Bill Erwin, who hasn't been at church much (at least those Sundays I go to AHCC rather than Mexican CC) since his term as Elder ended.

From Church I returned home briefly, to exchange a few things before heading back downtown to La Villita the Accordion Festival. In mid-afternoon, the great Santiago Jiménez, Jr., took the Arneson River Theater stage with his accordions (like most accomplished, veteran squeezebox performers he's got more than one) and his backup band that includes that other essential instrument for conjunto music: the bajo sexto (a twelve-string guitar). Santiago Jr. belongs to a famous dynasty of conjunto accordionists, which includes his father Santiago Sr. and brother Flaco (who was at my first Accordion Festival, back in '02). He was terrific: as he played old polka standards older chicano couples got down to dance in the wide section of the Riverwalk between the Arneson's bankside seating area and the edge of the San Antonio River. (The Arneson stage is on the other side of the river -- unique for a performance venue!) And on one song the audience joined in on the chorus lyrics. This reminded me of when I was at Mission San José for the likewise legendary Little Joe y la Familia, and the audience would sing along on songs they obviously had known and loved for years. These chicano neighbors of mine truly love to sing!

Sad to say, Santiago Jr., que tiene 64 años, suffered from the heat of the midafternoon sun and had to cut short his time on that stage. Later we were told that he was actually taken away in an EMS vehicle. Truly, the Festival's organizers should have scheduled him for the evening, when the hot sun would have been low, if not behind the riverside trees!

Before and after the legendary conjunto star I heard from a Native American family band which includes accordion. They're called "Southern Scratch" and hail from the Tohono O'odham Nation of southern Arizona. Their tribal reservation abuts the USA-Mexican border, so it surprised me not that their musical style sounded a lot like conjunto! They call their music "waila" (pronounced "wide-ah"), which they said means "popular dance music" in the Tohono O'odham language. (The nation used to be called the Papago Indians.) In English it's called "chicken scratch", which leads to the second word of the family band's name. That term was the white man's way of describing the natives' dance motions -- or by another telling the natives' way of describing the white-eyes' movements! But either way, it includes the jolly vibes of the squeezebox and is very danceable!

Hail to the accordion!

Monday, September 24, 2007

"I'd died & gone to Heaven!"

Yes, dear reader, that's what I was saying during and after a certain Saturday night event. "I felt like I'd died and gone to Heaven!" The event involved a trip with my brother Patrick to a local institution of fame, Texas dance hall Floore Country Store in Helotes, northwest of San Antonio.

But no, the "heavenly" feeling didn't involve any two-stepping or waltzing on my part or "baby" brother's. Rather, the pleasure came in listening live to one of my favorite country-pop singers, the great Ray Price. Now, if you return to my postings in August 2006, you'll read how I won a certificate for free admission for two to Ray Price's previous concert at Floore, courtesy KKYX-AM 680. But then I couldn't find anybody who'd go with me and thus give me a ride. (Before I moved to S.A., the bus company, VÍA, had a route going out Bandera Road into Helotes, but during my time VÍA gets no closer than several miles inside Loop 1604 on Bandera Road.)

Well, early last week I again won admission for two, to this year's concert. And yeah, buddy! it sure helps to have kinfolk with wheels living in town! I just wish the admission had been for three or even four (like KKYX's ticket prizes to Missions baseball games). That's because my sister-in-law LaRae knew who Ray Price is and likes his singing. Brother Patrick, on the other hand, wasn't familiar with the legendary singer, whose biggest pop hit was probably "For the Good Times" in the Sixties. They felt they couldn't afford the cost of an additional admission to make it a threesome. So just Patrick and I went out to the small town that's home to John T. Floore's dance hall.

When we entered the grounds I found out that the whole concert would begin an hour later than I had thought (the certificate didn't have a time, just the date). But this gave time to just relax and enjoy the atmosphere and to explore the grounds. During the roaming I noticed that KKYX-AM 680 had set up a tent; I went over and thanked the radio station's employee for the free admission which allowed Patrick and me to attend the concert. He divulged that Jerry King was present, near one of the outdoor bars. So I walked over there to chat with my "old friend". Jerry, weekday morning deejay on the classic country music station, is renown for being the first to broadcast a George Strait recording. In the past five years he's been inducted into the country radio deejay Hall of Fame, located inside Opryland Hotel next to the broadcast booth of WSM, home of the Grand Ole Opry. Later this night he served as Master of Ceremonies for 20 seconds -- long enough to introduce the star of the concert. If there were such a thing as a "Jerry King Fan Club" I reckon I would be President!

The "store" really is a tavern, with a small dance floor as well as seating and a small performance area. But Ray Price and his Cherokee Cowboys band, and warm-up act Texas Sapphire, would be performing outdoors, behind the building. That area, about half the size of a football field, maybe, featured a large concrete slab for dancing, with a permanent stage on the east side, the store on the south side and several rows of picnic tables for seating, under a few live oaks, on the west side. Texas Highway 16 runs along the north side, but the tall wooden fence surrounding the grounds keeps out the noise of traffic.

As opening time for the concert's warm-up approached, this space filled up. Most folk were my age or older -- folk who were around when Price was a hit-making singer. Almost all of us were Anglos; some women wore outfits one associates with older country music fans of the female persuasion. And a majority of the men wore Stetsons and other western wear. Actually, I surprised myself in grabbing one of my caps rather than my own cowboy hat. Patrick remarked that he, too, was surprised at my choice of headgear. At least I sported blue jeans and a Western-cut shirt (with "pearl" snaps). And like most of the men I drank a couple of beers during the evening -- my taste for brew running to Lone Star Light.

Let me tell you, the whole atmosphere of Floore Country Store is quintessentially Texan!

The warm-up act, Texas Sapphire, was a brother-sister duet from Austin. They sounded pretty good, and seemed to be singing mostly original songs in a range of musical styles, to include traditional country with steel guitar accompaniment, in their performance of about an hour. But we were here to hear (and see) Ray Price! Well, after several "dead" minutes of nobody being on stage Ray Price's band members came out and began preparing instruments for performance. Then I noticed that several dozen folks, mostly men, had gathered in front of the stage. I remarked about them to both my brother and a woman sitting at the same picnic table. She replied that they were "groupies". Considering myself a Ray Price "groupie" of sorts I decided to saunter over there, myself!

After four songs led and sung by Ray's guitar-playing son, the great singer himself stepped out, beginning things with "San Antonio Rose". This was appropriate, since the formerly remote Helotes has been bumped up against by the ever-expanding San Antonio! After a few words of greeting, Ray went into the second song. And I "died and went to Heaven"!

That song is "Crazy Arms". Working at the ticket center at Opryland in 1991 and again a couple of years later, daily I was listening to a set of a few dozen country hit recordings that were played over and over in that area at the entrance to Opryland and the Grand Ole Opry House. Such hits as "Satisfied Mind" by Porter Waggoner, "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks and "Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind" by George Strait. Country-music lover that I am, I never tired of these songs. My very favorite came to be "Crazy Arms" by Ray Price! Being early Ray Price (before he eased into a more "Nashville Sound" pop-music style such as "For the Good Times"), it's a traditional country song about unrequited love with traditional accompaniment, including a great pedal-steel guitar. That steel guitar has a concluding slide that simply "sends me" whenever I hear it!

Now I was hearing Ray Price himself singing "Crazy Arms"! Wow! I made my way back across the dance floor, now filled with dozens of couples "cuttin' the rug", and announced to my companions that "I feel like I've died and gone to Heaven!" And I quickly added the explanation.

On a later song Ray actually stopped singing to let the fiddles, etc., do an instrumental rendition of the great Bob Wills classic "Faded Love". Why he chose to not sing the lyrics I don't know, but the fiddles alone were okay. Traditional country music connoisseurs speak of "twin fiddles"; Ray went further and had quadruple fiddles in his band! Oh, and I ought to mention that one day in the 1980s I was listening to WSM-AM 650, home of the Grand Ole Opry, when the station had a listener call-in poll of our favorite country songs of all time. George Jones' song "He stopped Loving Her Today" topped this poll, but the one I called in, "Faded Love", placed high. This was a few years before I began to work at Opryland and fall in love with "Crazy Arms" and before George Strait released "Love Without End, Amen" which continues as my fave.

Well, "baby" bro Patrick is even less of a night owl than I, so we didn't stay for the whole concert. I reasoned that after all, what could be better than "San Antonio Rose", an instrumental "Faded Love" and that wonderful "Crazy Arms"? As we walked back to bro's car, he did say that he'd recognized some of Price's songs. He's more into contemporary-hit country music (and thus probably enjoyed Texas Sapphire more), but I sensed that he had enjoyed the whole evening. And I had the satisfactions of having "died and gone to Heaven" when Ray sang that song, and of having introduced my brother to that characteristic Texas institution, the dance hall. Yep! I've "Texanized" my bro!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Crowded Weekend -- Champs Win!

This past weekend was crowded with all sorts of events from which to choose. Well, dear reader, I'd say that's typical for this city that loves to party. And so I had to pick and choose -- and didn't always pick what I initially most wanted!

And it began on Thursday; at the San Antonio City Council meeting I received two items concerning Diez y Seis. One was a medal for the holiday, the other a printed schedule of all San Antonio events to do with this holiday that celebrates the independence of Mexico.

It's Diez y Seis (Spanish for "16") because the struggle for our southern neighbor's freedom from Spanish rule started on 16 September 1810. At midnite on the 15th, the priest of the village of Dolores, Miguel Hidalgo, rang the church bells, to call together his parish. He then uttered the cry for independence, which began the long struggle. And so, at midnite on the fifteenth the President of Mexico utters a version of el grito ("the cry" or "the shout") from the balcony of the National Palace, to open the Diez y Seis celebrations. San Antonio, even tho' longer a city of Mexico, holds its own El Grito ceremony in Municipal Auditorium. I attended it once, missed it last year because the concluding cry was done two hours early (at ten), and desired to attend again this year.

So, with the medal and printed schedule, I was all set to go enjoy the El Grito ceremony, right? Wrong! I worked at Fiesta Texas 'til 2:00, then went to a library to do some work until the library closed at 5:00. And then I took the bus home and listened to KKKYX-AM 680's broadcast of the Missions championship game in Missouri for the 2007 Texas League crown.

And what a game it was! San Antonio's baseball team dominated the game until the bottom of the ninth. The Missions led 11-0 at that point, and for several innings Springfield's team, despite playing at home, didn't even have a hit, let alone a run.

But. . . don't give the visiting Missions the 2007 TL crown just yet! The Springfield Cardinals, farm team of MLB's St. Louis team, came alive -- very alive -- as the bottom of ninth commenced. They gained six runs before the Missions' defense even got an out on them! Things were looking grim for awhile there. But once there was one out, the ending for Springfield and San Antonio came quickly. Final score was Cardinals 7, Missions 11.

The San Antonio Missions had three wins to one loss in the best-of-five championship series. They thus had won the Texas League crown for 2007!

I went to sleep considering how this was the second sports championship for '07 that San Antonio had earned, the other being the Spurs winning the NBA. And I knew that the baseball guys wouldn't get the recognition that the Spurs got back in June. Folks in this city just do not seem to know or care that there is more to sports here than the Spurs and the "Friday night lights" of high school football. Oh, well, I'll get off my soapbox. . . .

Sunday morning I awoke and began the day's entry in my prayer journal. I wrote the heading: "Sunday 16 September. . ." Yeah, today, the Diez y Seis holiday, I would be preaching the sermon at Mexican Christian Church. . . wait! "¡Diez y Seis!" This means that I missed El Grito ceremony last night at Municipal Auditorium! Oh well, one cannot turn back the hands of time to participate in some event one has missed. . . .

So I simply continued preparing to attend church and preach a sermon. This BTW, was why I had gone to the library after work on Saturday, to finish my sermon preparation. We had a good number of people at Mexican Christian Church for worship, including several small children. That's great! My sermon was "Gracia y Gratitude / Grace and Gratitude", with the featured Scripture being I Timothy 1:12-17, with reference also to Psalm 14 and Luke 15:1-10. All three Scripture readings are from the lectionary (the list of recommended Bible reading for a given Sunday), and had God's grace and a person's gratitude as theme.

Following worship I did get in a little celebration of the Diez y Seis holiday. I had Sunday dinner at Mi Tierra, the well-known restaurant in S.A.'s El Mercado. Then I wandered around the marketplace and enjoyed the live music and other elements of the Fiestas Patrias (more or less "Patriotic Parties", what Spanish-speakers would also call the U.S.A.'s celebrations on or about the Fourth of July) annual festivity.

And once in awhile I'd think back on what I had missed the evening before -- El Grito over at Municipal Auditorium -- AND also what I'd experienced: listening on KKYX-AM 680 to the San Antonio Missions win the 2007 Texas League AA baseball championship! Hooray, Missions! Y también ¡Viva San Antonio!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Brother in Christ, Gone Home to Jesus

You know, dear reader, I could almost hate three-day summer weekends. On the Labor Day holiday just observed, many places with public computer terminals were closed on Sunday and Monday, and I had to work at Fiesta Texas on Saturday, thus eliminating any opportunity to blog, check e-mail, etc. But anyhow. . . here I am!

Friday evening I attended a memorial service for a man I had only known since moving to San Antonio in '02. At that time Larry West was the pastor of Western Hills Christian Church (Disciples) in the northwest of the city, out beyond the medical district. The first time I visited that church for Sunday worship and met Brother Larry, I got a "good feeling" about him, that HERE was a Man of God! Any time I got to be around him I felt a peace and a joy. When I learned that Brother Larry was a Navy chaplain, I found a strong connection between the two of us, since I'd been a chaplain in the US Army, endorsed by the Disciples of Christ, as he was endorsed for the Navy chaplaincy. On a subsequent Sunday I visited Western Hills CC again; it must have been the Sunday prior to Veterans Day, because all us military vets who were present were recognized. Brother Chaplain Larry was wearing his Navy dress white uniform. Even tho' he was in his sixties and somewhat overweight, he truly looked dashing in that splendid uniform!

Now, the previous Pastor of Western Hills CC was Harold Guess, sponsor for my (pilgrim) Walk to Emmaus, Men's #327 in October '93. When I learned that Bro. Larry was going on HIS pilgrim walk, I made sure to get a ride to Candlelight, and to sign up for the prayer vigil for that Walk. Not long afterward, he retired from the pastoral ministry, and then he had back surgery. Apparently he never fully recovered. . . and now he's gone to be with the Lord.

This is one of those situations when someone I esteem has died, and while cherishing every incident in which our two paths crossed, I also regret that I didn't do more to get to know the person even better, and to express my esteem.

The memorial service in Western Hills Christian Church was just right. There were tears, yes, but a lot more of simply celebrating joyfully Larry West's life, his passions for food (like me!), railroads & model trains (like me again!), family, country and God. He had served in the US Navy 43 years. Forty-three years! Wow!

During the early portion of the service I had mixed feelings of gladness that Bro. Larry no longer suffers in his back or anywhere else, that mild regret about my not doing more to get to know him better (he was quite the role model), and a little envy that he had gone home. It all seemed to coalesce when we began singing as a congregation the hymn "What a Friend we Have in Jesus" -- one of my faves. I was suddenly given a vision of Larry in his Navy dress whites (and still with glasses, too) with the Lord Jesus giving him a welcoming hug into Heaven! Wow!

I was very impressed with a painting that was displayed just outside the door from the lobby into the sanctuary, of Bro. Larry from about the waist up (and arms positioned as tho' he were sitting) in Navy dress blues (the equivalent of the Army's dress greens or "Class A's") above a panorama of Western Hills Christian Church (Disciples) with emphasis on its three monumental iron I-beam crosses. I was told that a member of WHCC painted it for Larry's retirement. It was beautiful, and I felt that it expressed Larry exactly as I will probably best remember him! (Well, granted, I never saw him wearing Navy dress blues, just the whites.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Lone Star Spectacular, one more time!

This past Saturday, 25 August, was quite a day at Fiesta Texas! Projected attendance was very high, with a major portion of it being employees of Dell (the computer company, headquartered near Austin). Therefore, the gates opened about 9:15 a.m. and we interviewers were asked to clock in if possible by 8:30.

Yup, I switched positions at the theme park again. I'm now an interviewer for Marketing at the front gate, and later in the day within the park. The later interview involves approaching Guests who are resting in the shade (e.g. while other family members are on a thrill ride they don't care to experience), striking up a conversation with them and then asking if they'd consent to do an in-line survey of their park experience once they return home, to help Six Flags make the park experience even better. That part of the job is "right up my alley" so to speak, and gives me opportunity to "push" the terrific shows of this park, winner of the "Golden Ticket Award" for Best Shows for eight straight years!

Earlier in the day (usually 9 to 2) I do palm pilot surveys (demographic) in the front gate area; this is what I did in '04 and '05. For once, today I gained 100 surveys! One question on the palm pilot survey asks for the Guest's ZIP, and Saturday I got a lot for Pfluegerville, Round Rock and other Austin area ZIPs, thanks to so many Dell employees coming in.

But God bless Dell and their employees! You've heard of a show being "back by popular demand"? Well, thanks to "Dell demand" the park showed the Lone Star Spectacular one more time this past Saturday nite!

I got to spread word about the showing and to thank Dell employees for it. While I was doing the in-park interviews I "pushed" the extra showing, giving proper credit to Dell for this. I finished with 11 consents to do the on-line survey, just after 4 in the afternoon, and went to the Admin Building to drop off the forms. As I passed the Arboledo Picnic Grounds, reserved for a huge and (I'm told) de-e-elicious Dell employee picnic, I heard Toby Keith's recording of "Shoulda Been a Cowboy" -- I love that song! It perfectly expresses what I've cherished in a corner of my heart since growing up in the remnants of the Wild West in Idaho.

. Shoulda been a cowboy, shoulda learned to rope and ride
. Wearin' my six-shooter, ridin' my pony on a cattle drive
. Stealin' the young girls' hearts, just like Gene and Roy
. Singin' those campfire songs, Oh, I shoulda been a cowboy!

Having delivered the papers at Admin and taken a second break at the Take-A-Break employee cafe, I returned to the front gate area, to hand out coupons like I did on 5 July. Whenever I saw someone wearing a Dell shirt, I smiled broadly and thanked them (for the return of the L.S.S.).

As soon as I got signed out (or "off the clock" so to speak) just before 9:00, I made a bee-line for the Lone Star Lil's Amphitheatre and my favorite spot in it to watch the laser and fireworks celebration of Texas and America. I inquired from Guests already sitting nearby if they'd ever seen the show. When they said "no", and I ascertained that they were Texans I assured them that they would lu-u-uv the Lone Star Spectacular!

Since more than once I've mentioned this, my favorite feature of Fiesta Texas, I should give a synopsis. The show opens with laser clouds, laser lightning and the sound of thunder, then the galloping of a herd of mesteños (mustangs). Then laser images of two huge hands -- the Creator's presumably -- take a hammer and chisel and shape a laser outline of the State of Texas on the cliff wall, and then lift a huge branding iron to brand it with "Texas" in playbill-type letters. A longhorn erupts thru this, and then a cowboy appears, to tell the audience that "it takes a lot of songs to tell a story as big as Texas". He's San Antonio Sam, the laser-image narrator of the show. His assistant -- she's too pretty and smart to be called his sidekick -- is Alamo Annie.

Together Sam and Annie lead us thru a quick history of Texas, starting with indigenous tribes like the Caddo and Comanche and ending with admission of the erstwhile Republic into the Union as a state. Strangely, nothing is said about the Confederacy, and indeed little is made of the six flags that flew over Texas -- despite this now being a Six Flags park! (The first park of the corporation was Six Flags Over Texas, opened in the early 1960s in Arlington.) Then we get a tour of a few of Texas' cities, each represented by at least one song, starting in Laredo ("Streets of Laredo") and going thru Dallas (theme from the TV soap "Dallas"), etc., to San Antonio ("San Antonio Rose"). The latter being the home of the theme park, it gets a little extra treatment: mariachi music, mention of Fiesta (the April party-to-end-all-parties), the "Chicken Dance" celebrating the German heritage, and Rodeo.

Then Sam boasts that Texas also features plenty of sports competition, indeed "a plethora of teams" -- to which Annie interrupts that she hopes Sam isn't using a word like "plethora" if he doesn't know what it means. Various Olympic or professional sports heroes are celebrated (my faves are late Cowboys coach Tom Landry and former record-setting Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan -- oh, and David Robinson and Tim Duncan of the Spurs) as well as teams. This athletic celebration segues into a celebration of America, which includes salutes to the five military services by the playing of their anthems. This US Army veteran always sings along on "Over hill, over dale, we will hit the dusty trail as those caissons go rolling along. . .", the Army's anthem. Presidents associated with Texas are honored, including the current occupant of the White House and our First Lady -- they were Governor and First Lady of this State before moving east to DC. And the Americana portion wraps up with "God Bless America", rendered so movingly that my head always leaks.

The finale is San Antonio Sam's laser image returning to the cliff (assisted by Alamo Annie, of course), asserting that all the varied regions in the huge state make up Texas, and that "it's people like you who make Texas the friendliest State". Sam calls for a loud "yee-haw!" from the audience, and then the laser rays and fireworks go crazy as a recorded orchestra plays a rousing rendition of "Deep in the Heart of Texas"

And this is the Lone Star Spectacular -- back by Dell demand for one more '07 appearance. God bless Dell! God bless Texas!

You might say, dear reader, that this past Saturday was a Grand Finale for the Summer of Ought Seven! Today the park is closed, and it will only be open on weekends (to include Labor Day) until end of October. For today is the first day of classes for 2007-08 for public school students and teachers here in Texas. And I already have a substitute teaching assignment for Thursday and Friday in Alamo Heights High School -- defending State Champs in $-A Division 1 football!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lunch with a Brother

Wednesday (day before yesterday) I had a lunch date with a Brother. No, not my blood brother Patrick, even tho' he now lives here in San Antonio. This Brother is a fellow Lambda Chi Alpha brother. He's Christopher "Chip" Haass.

Until June of this year "Chip" had been my Councilman, representing S.A.'s District Ten on the City Council. But that's over-and-done now. Indeed, one reason I wanted to get together with him was to learn what he's doing these days, now that he's no longer on the Council.

We did lunch at Jim's - Jim's #1 on Broadway at Loop 410. When Brother "Chip" was a newly-elected Council member back in A.D. 2003, I was working at that Jim's as a sometimes waiter and sometimes cashier. I was doing cashier duty during one lunch-time, when "Chip" stepped up to the cash register to pay his lunch bill. I recognized him as one of the rather impressive young new members of the Council, and I congratulated him on his election to the body. Since I had first met him there it had occurred to me for us to do lunch at the same place. Not to mention that Jim's has long been one of my favorite places to eat in the Alamo City, going back to my residency in Devine.

I was rather surprised to learn that Bro. "Chip" had been to Mexico City since leaving the Council, as a private citizen at Mexico's invitation. Turns out that he had been heavily involved in getting San Antonio to take a stand on the current "hot-button" issue of immigration. Apparently he hadn't been able to go south during his service on the Council -- he described it as a very busy and demanding post -- and so he had gone afterward. He also let me know that he will be starting law school this fall, at the excellent School of Law at St. Mary's University here.

We also chatted about experiences at our mutual institutions: Texas Christian University, where I studied in the late 1970s for a Master of Divinity in the seminary (to qualify to be an Army chaplain) and he much more recently studied for a bachelor's in education, and Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity. Turns out that "Chip" hadn't associated with the brotherhood until after his freshman year, but was so impressed with the demeanor of the TCU brothers and the teachings of LCA that he knew it was the fraternity for him. Later he served as High Delta of the Zeta (chapter)at TCU. I myself had served as High Kappa (fraternity educator) and High Phi (ritualist) at the Idaho Zeta.

Let me tell you, dear reader, that I had ordered one of my three favorite burgers on the Jim's menu -- which is much more varied than just burgers -- the "Golden Mushroom" burger. But I was so focused on conversation with Bro. "Chip" that I basically just ate the burger without savoring it! Indeed, it was such a pleasure to converse with Bro. "Chip" that I hated for the lunch hour to end. But he had things to do and I had to go home and get ready to get to work at closing shift at Fiesta Texas. So we gave a hearty handshake and said farewells with blessings. But I shall not soon forget this terrific lunch-time date with a beloved brother of our beloved fraternity!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

In & Out of the Hospital

This time last week (Wed.) I was experiencing some symptoms that were cause for concern. I'd recovered from all-over body aches and mild fever of the day before. BUT now I saw that my right shin had a red rash all over -- varying intensities of red. And by mid-day the shin was also swelling!

Now, every time that right shin even feels a bit weird, I get nervous, because in early 2003 I had suffered a staph infection and blood clot there. And now it was looking just like back then! I sighed, "Here we go again!" as I rode the bus the the ER at the VA Hospital that Wed. afternoon. After a few hours' wait, I was seen by an ER physician, a Dr. Vu (a Vietnamese man?), who told me he would admit me to the hospital, and then sent me to Radiology for an ultrasound and X-rays.

Once I was in room #517 on Floor 5A, I got word that the X-rays indicated no clot. Thank God for that! And they got me on IV antibiotics immediately. After 24 hours (Thu. PM), I noticed no change in the looks of my shin. However, I was less likely to feel pain there when I'd stand up (before walking a few steps). I was seriously beginning to wonder if the IV was having any real effect, and for how many days I'd be in the VA Hospital -- and missing necessary days of work?

But not to worry! When I awoke Friday, I could see that the red rash was shrinking, and likewise the swelling. AND the sun came out for the first time in days! The windows of our room faced easterly, so upon finishing breakfast I walked over to a window and just stood there, relishing the feel of sun rays on me. I'm a witness: there IS such a thing as "solar therapy"!

I say "our room" because I was sharing room #517 with three other vets. It was good to share space with these fellows. I particularly appreciated the man next to me (I was in bed #23 and he in #24), Howard Wakefield. He's from Brackettville (about 100 miles west of San Antonio), is in his eighties and is a brother Christian and a brother Mason. So we had some great conversations. The other two occupants of 517 were a Mr. Ruiz, a quiet, elderly chicano, and Steve Brady, closer to my age, but always up and about the hospital corridors.

Release from the IV came by Friday evening (to be replaced by antibiotic pills), and from the VA Hospital came mid-day on Saturday. My brother Patrick and his wife LaRae came to get me and take me home. The care by the VA staff on 5A was excellent. Nevertheless, it was GOOD to be "free" and on the way to familiar places again. And especially to return to my necessary employment -- the rent HAS to be paid on time, ya know, dear reader!

Friday, July 06, 2007

Independence Day Ought Seven

Celebration of this nation's Independence Day this year involved some rain and a lot of work. But fireworks and "old-fashioned" patriotism still got featured too!

The day started out with the usual Wednesday men's Bible study and breakfast at Mama's Café on Nacogdoches Road. Well, it really wasn't "the usual"; only four of us were present and we included neither the facilitator nor fill-in facilitator. One of the other three suggested that, since we didn't have the usual outline e-mailed from the facilitator, that we read and discuss an addendum he'd put on his e-mail notifying concerned parties that there wouldn't be a Bible study on Independence Day (to which I had replied to everyone that I would still be there). The addendum listed seven blessings given in the Book of Revelation. And no, these DON'T have to do with the seven churches, letters to which form the first section of this final book of the New Testament. The seven blessings are actually scattered thru'out the book. Anyhow. . . we had a great discussion of these seven blessings, and tasty food and uplifting fellowship.

I started work at Fiesta Texas in mid-afternoon, and we had rain sprinkles off and on from that point. (Northeast San Antonio along Austin Highway, the part of the city where I live, got a gully-washer for a couple hours in late morning.) The theme park's parking lot was only about half full upon my arrival for work, but lots of folk entered thru the turnstiles in the couple of hours prior to the park's renown "Lights of Liberty" fireworks show. This show preempts the "Lone Star Spectacular" on the nights of 3 and 4 July every year.

The daily special at Take-a-Break Café (the park employees' cafeteria) was brisket, Polish sausage, pinto beans, potato salad and macaroni salad. Just like a "fourth-of-July" picnic. Well, sort of. And this food was delicious! Oh, and I avoid calling our number one national holiday "Fourth of July". After all, every nation that uses the Western calendar has a fourth (day) of July (month)! I much prefer to call the holiday "Independence Day" -- after all, that's what the holiday that happens to fall on the Fourth celebrates.

I was "lucky" to be at the turnstile with the best view -- such little view as one gets -- for watching the fireworks when they began. I would stoop down and see much of the pyrotechnics between and thru trees. I kept going "Wow!" at certain sky bursts, and singing along and even dancing to the accompanying music. Then the supervisor on duty signed me out, and I got to watch the final few minutes of the "Lights of Liberty" from nearby Texas State Square in the Los Festivales area of the park. I actually prefer to see the show from the square rather than Lone Star Lil's Amphitheatre, the featured viewing locale.

As I approached the square I passed first Speedy Gonzales and Pepe Le Pew and then Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck watching the show. After it was over and I was leaving I passed those latter two Looney Tunes characters and remarked to Daffy, "That wasn't despicable, was it, Duck!" Ha, ha! He and Bugs both waved to me. (As one would expect, the Looney Tune characters which Six Flags added to Fiesta Texas upon park takeover do not ever speak; they just go around with "frozen" smiles, waving, shaking hands and posing for pictures with Guests.)

I also worked the next day at the theme park. It was in effect a double shift, or opening to closing of the park. For I had responded to a posted call for park employees to help out in distributing samples and coupons at the front gate from five to nine P.M. (Hmm-mm-mm! Hark! I hear a certain Dolly Parton song about "working. . ." oh! that's right; she sings NINE to Five, not my five to nine!) The coupon distribution turned out to be pretty fun, but my legs did get sore from just standing in basically one place rather than walking around or sitting down (we have stools to use when we work the turnstiles).

The best part of working opening-to-closing on this day after Independence Day was that I was released from this work right at 9:00, start time for the "Lone Star Spectacular" show, returning after two nites' preemption by "Lights of Liberty". The L.S.S. really IS better seen from seating inside Lone Star Lil's Amphitheatre, but I knew it wouldn't be easy to find a good seat by this time. And I had discovered that one got a tolerably-good view from the edge of the log flume ride beside the gate into Lone Star Lil's -- right across the way from the steps up to Der Pilger Bahnhof (the train depot in Spassburg). So there I went.

I watched what I could, listened to the narration, sang along and clapped to my favorite songs of Texas and America, did the "Chicken Dance", and cheered the various Texas sports heroes as their names lasered across the old quarry cliff. I heard the thunderous roar from within the amphitheater when "San Antonio Spurs" blazed across that rocky face, with the newly-added words "Champions 2007"! And of course this patriotic son of these United States got teary-eyes again at the song "God Bless America". And then came that grand finale, when the fireworks and laser rays go crazy while the recorded orchestra blasts out "Deep in the Heart of Texas". I joined in the cheers for the pyros and in the four quick claps at the appropriate points of the song.

And so ended what was in effect a two-day celebration (AND both days work days!) of the independence of the U.S.A. God bless America! God bless Texas! God bless San Antonio and Fiesta Texas theme park!