McBride At Rest

McBride At Rest

Friday, January 1, 2021

2021--Thank God

 I’m still here, even it’s been five months since I last blogged. I’ll blame 2020 for my negligence. I’ve not quit writing, not even slowed down—except for the blog. I reckon that not doing most of those things I do away from our house has been good for me in that one way, at least. Being retired, my job hasn’t been threatened by COVID. But for months, church stopped, Kiwanis Club meetings stopped, Civil War reenactments stopped, other meetings turned into zoom episodes, and family visits decreased.

Along the way, my daughter-in-law caught COVID 19, but thankfully recovered after a mild case. Worse, my 99-year-old dad passed away a week shy of his 100th birthday, which would have angered him if he’d been aware of the timing. 

Since he was a WWII veteran, the Honor Guard from Bergstrom AFB honored him with a flag-draped coffin and playing taps at his graveside.  

A couple of months later, the last of my four uncles died at age 90, leaving my siblings and me as the ‘old wise ones’ in our clan. I’m not sure I’m up to that duty, since I’m no Gandalf or Moses with a magical staff. After that, wifey Nita and I are pleased to wake up this morning in the year 2021.

The manuscript I’ve been hacking away at for most the past year has nothing to do with the Civil War, early Texas, or giant flying horny toads.  Nope, it’s me scratching an itch that’s bugged me since 1999. That’s the year when a couple of high school students brought guns to school, turned the school library into a fort, and murdered other students and teachers inside Columbine High School in Colorado.  The first of several horrifying school shootings over the next twenty years.

I spent nine years as the principal of a high school, and nothing, I mean nothing, more disturbs me than the thought of a gun-wielding angry teenager, hell bent on murder, loose in my school.  So, decades after my tenure as a high school principal ended, and having gained some degree of expertise by writing other novels, I’ve been creating a story about such a situation.

It hasn’t been an easy task, as my story unfolded differently than I’d expected. That’s a funny thing I’ve learned by doing, by writing fiction. I as the author am supposed to be in control. After all, it’s my fingers, on my keyboard, taking orders from my brain. Yet, regardless of all that ownership of the moving parts and mental effort, characters emerge who surprise me, situations play out differently than I’d intended, and the tale told winds up different from the tale first imagined.  My school shooter story is no exception.

I set the story in 1984-85, during a school year when I was a new-ish principal. Those years were before cell phones, before the internet, before email and i-phones and texting. We didn’t even use radios to communicate in my school.  Exterior doors were kept open all over campus, we didn’t have a school police officer. Times were different, better in some ways, worse in others, but, for sure, communication was primitive by today’s standards, making the pathway of a school shooter much, much easier than now.

Growing up in a small town in east Texas, I had guns as a teenager. My friends and I would go down to the Sabine River bottoms and ‘plink’ at cans and turtles sunning on logs in the river, although I doubt we ever hit any turtles. I’m saying that to clarify it was easy to decide what weapon I’d arm my shooter with in the year 1985—a Remington Model 66 long rifle .22, one of Remington’s most popular guns. The Model 66’s, made from 1959 to 1987, were semi-automatics, with a capacity of fourteen cartridges. The cartridges were fed through a tunnel in the plastic butt stock, similar in design to the Civil War Spencer repeating carbines.

The Model 66’s are slow and awkward to load, no clips or magazines to pop in and out, but they can dependably shoot fourteen rounds with fourteen squeezes of the trigger. I had one, and regret I accidentally left it at a friend’s place one weekend, someone who I haven’t seen in many years, who now lives I know not where. So my personal Model 66 is lost.

While the weapon was easy to choose, the murderous thoughts within the teenager on whom my tale focuses were not easy at all to sort out and set down in writing. I mean, who knows what turns a teenage kid into a teenage killer? I’m not talking about urban gangs, where the malignant influences to violence are not big secrets. I’m talking about a small town or country kid who slides into a figurative sucking whirlpool and can’t find a way out. Like I said, a challenge.

I can’t be a spoiler of my own story, and even the title is still up in the air. The manuscript is still being critiqued chapter-by-chapter by a circle of tough readers. It has been a tough story to write, a fitting story to create in the tough year 2020.

Stay tuned for an announcement about the book in a month or two.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

A Rooster, A Bathing Lady, & A Church Window


This blog is all about one of my favorite, and most visited, tiny pieces of my world. Yes, it’s the corner of our master bedroom bathroom where the toilet resides. Over the years it’s grown into a little mini-shrine of my life. 

Fittingly, since I’m a southpaw, from left to right:  The stained glass in the wooden frame was salvaged from Urban Park Methodist Church in Dallas where Nita and I were hitched back in 1972. The church faded away and the building was razed some years back. Nita’s sister, who was also married there, talked her way into buying or being given several of the small stained glass windows. Our son Ben reframed the window, making a maple frame to fit.  It’s colorful and every day reminds me how lucky I am that Nitabird married me.

Next is a late 1980’s poster of an art museum exhibit of Edgar Degas paintings in Washington DC.  I like hot baths and bathing women, with and without strategically draped towels, and this particular painting is modest for the French impressionist Degas. So, I bought the poster and hung it near our bathtub. Some years later, perhaps owing to my daily encounter with Degas’ bathing beauty, his fictional brother became a character in Whittled Away, my first Civil War novel.  The historical French artist’s mother was in fact an American Creole, so I created a plausible link in my story which includes an ink drawing of a naked bathing lady drawn by Edgar Degas and mailed to his fictional brother who was campaigning in the Confederate army. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I like it and the teenage Texas soldiers in Whittled Away really liked the bathing lady drawing. I mean, what's not to like?

Last is the art deco-ish shelf over the toilet. On top is a bunch of miniature wargaming soldiers I painted, and which carry the banner of the 17th Texas Infantry, the Confederate regiment about which my most recent Civil War novel, With Might & Main, is written.

Behind the little soldiers stands a giant rooster playing a guitar. No, he is not Foghorn Leghorn or his cousin. This colorful bird arrived when Nita was being a troubadour at several Methodist Church retreats called Walks to Emmaus.  Somehow, the rooster just fits and makes me smile.

On the bottom shelf stand two big blue plastic Civil War soldier toys, both painted by son Ben back when he was a little guy and wanted to do what daddy was doing that morning—painting toy soldiers.

In front of the clock that came from my dad is another wargaming figure—a Carthaginian war elephant I painted over 30 years ago.  And flanking the elephant are two antique lead toys, likely from England, a gift from my good neighbor Wayne.

The final gee-gaw on the shelf is the tall blue Egyptian cat. I don’t why it’s there, I don’t even like cats. I’m a dog guy. We did go to Dallas to see a travelling King Tut exhibit way back in time, so maybe we bought it there because a mummy wouldn’t fit in the car trunk. Who knows.

If this silly post merits a big raspberry, go ahead and toot. I won’t care. I think I just needed to write something light-hearted and goofy to move past my last post about my dad passing away.  Thanks for reading it.



Wednesday, August 5, 2020

On Monday We Buried My Dad

We buried my dad, Frank McBride, last Monday. He lived a hundred years, less a week-1920 to 2020. He was a boy during the Roaring Twenties, a scrambling teenager during the Great Depression when his family moved time and again as my grandfather hustled jobs. When World War II started, Pop enlisted and became a soldier for four years, spending two and a half years in Europe as a bomber ground crewman.

 Back home in Longview, Texas, he worked forty years for LeTourneau Inc, a manufacturer of heavy earth moving equipment and steel. His hobby was woodworking, making toys for his grandkids and all manner of smallish things.

Pop was a Christian with a servant’s heart who delivered Meals on Wheels well into his ‘80’s, volunteered at Good Shephard Hospital for decades, ran a woodworking class for elementary schools kids at his church’s after-school program, and oversaw the youth leadership training programs for the local Boy Scouts for years.  He was a Methodist Lay Speaker who preached at country churches, led a men’s Bible study, and went to the gym religiously.

He won a bout with double pneumonia when he was 97, and last week when his strong good heart finally had no more to give, my stepmother Della, my sister, my wife, and I were by his side.  It was a peaceful ending to a long and remarkable life.

Yesterday we were home again, and I was lost in my thoughts about Pop and the funeral.  I glanced out the back window and caught sight of two woodpeckers on a big oak tree in our back yard. The male had a fiery red head. I called for five-year-old grandson Jackson who was spending the day with us. We watched the birds working the tree trunk pecking for food, until they flew away, likely headed to their hidden nest. Then Jackson and I went to the computer to look at photos of woodpeckers and printed a drawing of one so he could color it to show his mom and dad when they got home.  I was thankful for the distraction of the birds and for Jackson’s happiness at seeing them.

I know it’s corny, but the woodpeckers reminded me that Pop is through feeding his family, through working the tree trunk, pecking at things trying to make his piece of the world a little better. His soul has flown away, and his remains lie inside a beautiful cedar casket, his earthbound nest for a long, long time. God is good.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Loving the Socks off Each Other

Since we are into the third month of the Coronavirus response, and half of America is out of work, waiting at home for better days and bored, I’m wondering if more people than usual will read my blog post. I dunno.

Nita and I have been empty-nesters since 2001 when our second son flew away to college. After two decades of being just a couple again and a dozen years of being retired from our careers, we have our routines. We have our quirks and our silent signals.

I talked about this in my last blog post, but here it is again: In January, our older son asked if his family of four might temporarily live with us while their new house is built, once the old house sells. We scratched our heads, looked at each other, and thought for about two seconds before we said, ‘Sure.’  We knew they’d be gone to work and daycare all day five days a week. No problem. After all, we’re family. The old house sold unexpectedly quickly so here they came.

Then, after just one week of togetherness--‘Hello, Coronavirus. Goodbye, work, goodbye daycare.”

Ten weeks later we have made new routines and are still tight as thieves because we’ve followed the advice of one of our pastors when he said that sometimes to get through ‘interesting times’ you just have to love the socks off each other. Nita and I do some daycare while our son and daughter-in-law work from home and attend zoom meetings, but most assuredly, Nita and I are still grandparents to the youngsters, not extra parents.

We respect each other’s privacy as we take informal turns having solo time with a book or a TV or a nap behind a closed bedroom door, and that includes the five-year-old and his Super Mario video games. I confess there are times when all four adults have our eyeballs glued to i-phones, i-pads, or my laptop all at the same time.

But we also spend a fair amount of time on the back deck and yard, chatting, swinging the kids, and even building campfires in the yard for burning marshmallows. The parents take bike rides, the grandparents push the two-year old in the stroller on leisurely walks. The five-year old grandson and I walk to the mailbox where he’s learned to unlock our cubbyhole in the neighborhood mailbox. He’s always looking for a new hand-drawn card and note from his preschool friend Miller. And he gardens with his grannie.

The two-year-old brings us books about Thomas the Train and Putting dinosaurs to bed and crawls into our laps to be read to. Each night after their bubble bath, the little one stands nekkid on his stool and shouts, “TAAA-DAAA!” before he allows his mother to wrestle him into his diaper and PJs.

The living room floor is pretty much always full of lego creations or herds of dinosaurs and school buses and trucks. The big coffee table is now the oval Lightning McQeen racetrack We just don’t talk about the millions of food crumbs and drops of blue yogurt that have landed on the rug.

I continue to write and Nita and I both carry on as we can with our volunteer and church activities.

It’s like no time in our lives. Like a recess from regular life. We’ll all be happy when the builder gives the keys to the brand new house to our son and his wife, and the first couple of days after they move will most likely be blissfully—and strangely—silent and empty at our house. And by the third day, we’ll miss the socks off all four of them—even if they’re just a mile away in their own home again.

But today is Mothers Day and time to be thaw some steaks for grilling and for the son and I to do what we can to pamper our wives all day and take care of the boys, while the two wives/mothers smile knowingly at our ersatz efforts at mothering for a day.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Isolation x Six & Birdbrain

Happy Easter to all ya’ll.   Rejoice! Christ Has Risen, He Has Risen Indeed!

It’s the day before Easter. We’re all hunkered down here in Lockhart—six of us in the same house where only four of us have ever lived together before now. The Plague didn’t cause it though, we invited Todd, Maggie, Jackson and Teddy to move in with us through the spring and summer months while their new home is being built. We love them dearly, and knew they would all be gone to work and preschool from 7 in the morning until 6 at night on weekdays until sometime in June, so Nita and I would still have our quiet times during the days.  Now, we all are here all day, every day, as Nita said, caught up in the movie Groundhog Day.

Nita and I are replaying a bit of our early days of parenting, this time as backups to Todd and Maggie. Privacy is a rare treasure. Smiles are sometimes pasted on, and a couple of grandparents bite our tongues every now and then.

Yesterday we and our neighbors all stood at the curb of a house across the street and sang Happy Birthday to a pretty girl named Emma who turned 18 yesterday. And today we six will celebrate grandson Teddy’s 2nd birthday in-house. And tomorrow, grandson Jackson and Teddy will hunt for candy-filled eggs in the yard.

Earlier this week, Todd and I replaced a big piece of sheetrock in the garage ceiling. Not as dangerous to familial love as Nita and I hanging wallpaper, but we had our moments. Still and all, honestly, life together is going well, better than well. The four TV’s, untold phones, i-pads, computers, and happy hours on the back porch don’t hurt, I suspect.

Besides doing a sloppy job of hanging sheetrock, what I have done is finish Birdbrain, my somewhat fictionalized tale of growing up in Longview, Texas from 1958 until 1963.  I wrote it for the five grandkids as a purpose-driven story of a boy’s ‘awakening’. It’s from the point of view of me as a 13-year-old looking back at my prior five years.

 It starts with the trauma of moving across town and changing schools. There’s grade school bullying and junior high slam books, trading disks with a girl, and the temptations of cheating at school. Two different and mostly true encounters with snakes falling from above add some spice. Confronting just-a-rock eight feet underwater becomes my highest bar to hurdle. There’s rocket-men, Tony’s Sporting Goods Store, and real-life murders on the TV. And more.

I can’t wait for our oldest granddaughter Eva to read it as she is turning 10 this summer. Even if it’s written with junior high kids’ vocabulary, my critiquing circle and my wife like it and tell me it’s a good book for us grown-ups too.  I hope you might give it a look. It’s not Civil War. 😊

Monday, March 23, 2020

Hair & The Moon

Today is Monday and we are house-bound like everyone else we know. Bless those who have important public safety, medical, and food-chain jobs who are out there caring for the sick and holding up the economy for the rest of us.

My daughter-in-law, Maggie, a public school counselor, is at our kitchen computer doing a lesson on planets for our 5-year-old grandson and his same age cousin. I overheard her explaining about the solar system and the moon before they went on the back deck and took their planetary positions to rotate around her. She was Mother Sun of course. Here they are as astronauts heading to the moon.

That eavesdropping sent me to find an old essay I wrote in 2001, before blogging was a thing. I wrote it one evening after I had been at a school conference at which a retired astronaut spoke to the general session. Not a lot has changed in 19 years to out-date my thoughts, so please take a peek at my before-blogging blog:

Today I was in a room and listened to a man who had walked on the moon. The Moon. In 1969, the Broadway play Hair hit the news. 

While I was at UT, the library had a recording of the original Broadway performance where some little gal longingly says, “Look at the moon, look at the moon, look at the moon, look at the moon, look at the moon, look at the moon…Look at the Moon.” It stuck in my head. Look at the moon. And today, today, I was in a room with a guy who that very year walked on the Moon. He-walked-on-the-Moon.

The Moon, that white sliver, the pearly disk in the night sky that has grown and shrunk and been the focus of…what? Religions? Mythology? Pagan rituals? It grows and shrinks on a schedule. It disappears for a few short minutes on a more mystical schedule. It is untouchable. Unreachable. It is the…Moon. And I was in a big room with an old man who 32 years ago threw his silver Astronaut medal as far as he could on the Moon. On the Moon, ya’ll. On the Moon. Her threw his little pin across yards of grit On the Moon.

How many people were alive on planet Earth in 1969? How many billion? How many billions have lived on Earth in the tens of thousands of years before 1969? How many people have walked on the Moon? Damn few. Twelve. Of tens of billions. And I was in the room with one of them. I could have walked up after his speech and shaken his hand. A hand that had picked up rocks from the surface of the Moon. Go outside, bend over, pick up a rock and think about picking up one on the Moon. Is it a big “So What?” Maybe.

Nah. It’s not a little thing, what we did, our country, the only one in history to do so, and to be in a room with one of the luckiest of the lucky people who made the trip, well, I was flattered. Many kids ask themselves if God is closer from the Moon? Alan Bean inferred not. His memory was that the Earth was so beautiful and so different from any other planet we can detect, God just has to be closer right here on Terra Nova. He said he stood on the Moon, and looked up at Earth with its blue, white and green colors, and just wanted to go home. And since then he only says thanks for what we have that the Moon and other planets do not: Weather, traffic, other people, shopping centers, and on and on.

So, today I was in a room with a man who had walked on the Moon. So what if 400,000 other people put him there. He went. And I felt privileged beyond reason. Just count the billions of people alive and dead who never had the chance to be where I was today.

Today I was in a room with a man who walked on the Moon.

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Alamo and Birdbrain

Here it is March 6, Remember the Alamo Day in Texas, and I’m writing my first blog post for 2020. In 1960, the year John Wayne’s Alamo movie hit the silver screen, I was in the sixth grade. Jumping ahead a year, in Texas, seventh graders take a year of Texas history. My Texas history teacher was one of only two women I’ve ever known of whose name was ‘Lady Bird.’ Lady Bird Taylor was my Texas history teacher, and Lady Bird Johnson was the wife of Texan Lyndon Johnson, then vice-president of the USA. My conclusion was that ‘Lady Bird’ must be one of those deeply Texan names, sort of like ‘Betty Lou,’ which was my mother’s name.

I remember quite clearly that Lady Bird, my teacher, cried in class in honor of the fallen heroes the day we studied the Alamo. And she fussed about the use of profanity (damn) in the movie, angry that Hollywood dared desecrate our Texas shrine with such language. For her sake, I hope Lady Bird Taylor passed on before she went to movies in the decades to follow. Safe to say she would have been rudely jolted by the language and nudity that the films of the late 60's and 70's brought to us..

Back to the Alamo, I’m a big fan of movie poster art, so enjoy this one of the Duke as Davy Crockett.

Otherwise, on this Remember the Alamo day, I received the proof copy of Birdbrain, my newest novel. I had just come in from the gym this morning when the padded envelope arrived on our doorstep, so pardon my Luckenbach, Texas t-shirt and rumpled hair. I get excited about opening the package hiding the paperback proof of a new novel. The proof is not a baby, and I’ve already seen images of the cover and the interior formatting, but there’s nothing like holding the actual first copy in my grubby hands and gloating over the fact that I made this little blue paper rectangle. Well, me and Amazon made it. (That should be Amazon and I made it, but in my 13-year-old narrator writing voice, ‘me’ goes before ‘them.’)

I wrote about Birdbrain in my last post of 2019, so please read the post under this one. Birdbrain is short, only half the length of my adult novels. It’s written in the voice of a 13-year-old boy—me--way back in years from 1958 to 1963. No sex, no teasing about sex, few big words we writers like to toss around.  I admit it has been fun and challenging to write a story for kids, in the voice of a kid who thinks he’s not a kid at 13.

My family does visit the Alamo during a summer vacation in Birdbrain. I'd didn't have to stretch my reaction to being awe-struck, not so much by the site, but by the huge toy soldier diorama of the battle that was on display in the souvenir store.

I’ll put up another blog post when I’m done proofreading and editing Birdbrain. My circle of critiquers are still hacking at it chapter by chapter, all of them trying to read it like they are kids again themselves, but still catching the adult nuances of writing good fiction and pointing out to me what needs fixing.

Meanwhile, the trees are busting out in green all over little Lockhart. Grandson Jackson starts his second try at playing youth soccer tomorrow. His first season last spring was less than stellar, but he did pick some pretty flowers while the others were chasing the ball. 😊 We’re hoping tomorrow he’ll be less focused on nature and more focused on sport. We’ll see.  Have a great March.