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.)