McBride At Rest

McBride At Rest

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.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Bullies Are Still Bullies

As the decade ends tomorrow, my current novel-writing project is sort of a Happy Days TV show look into the past, but not to teenagers of the 1950’s, but to my own childhood in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. It’s a purpose-filled novel aimed right at my oldest granddaughter Eva who is turning ten next summer. You can see she is at home on the stage. She also loves books and reading and seems to understand that her Granddaddy Phil writes books. But she’s not a Civil War nut, and even my dragon story is still too old for her. 

I confess that I’m vain about my efforts at novel writing, and I want my five grandkids all to read something their grandpa wrote. For some reason, I want them to know I was kid once upon a time. So, I’m writing Birdbrain, a semi-autobiographical narrative about me when I was in the fourth through seventh grades. I’m writing in the first person in the voice of a thirteen-year-old looking back at his period of ‘awakening.’

So far, it’s not been hard to zero in on matters that mattered to me back then, and most likely still matter to granddaughter Eva and will matter in a few years to the younger ones, both the girls and the boys. Bullies are still bullies. Meanness still surfaces. Friendships rise and fall. Teachers are still godlike. Cheating at school is still a temptation. Siblings remain our best friends and sometimes worst enemies. Boys and girls still become inexplicably attracted to each other. Mama is still the rock, the queen of home, and there’s still no place like home, as Dorothy so famously told my parents in the 1930’s.

I have included at least one issue in Birdbrain which didn’t impact me back then, as far as I knew as a boy living in that time and place. But the issue actually was having a profound stifling effect on the town where I lived and had a huge ‘awakening’ impact on our whole country in the years ahead. I grew up in a segregated world. The only nonwhite person I ever spoke to as a boy was Aunt Cleo’s maid. Seriously. And I couldn’t omit that then-unrealized slice of my sheltered young life.

Thankfully, my grandkids’ world is different. Granddaughter Eva attends an elementary school in a Dallas suburb in which there is no majority racial/ethnic group. African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and mid-Eastern students are her friends and classmates. I love it. But such was not the case in 1958 in Longview, Texas. Trust me on that. So Birdbrain includes a fictional up-close  reckoning with the pervasive racist beliefs and laws that kept white kids ‘protected’ from black people where I grew up.

Since Birdbrain is a family story which includes two grandmothers, and we are only hours from 2020, here is a photo from 1920, a hundred years ago, of my grandmother Mary McBride holding my newborn dad.

‘Mommy’ as we called her, was never the huggy, gushing sort of granny, but she lived near us, and I spent time with her and remember her fondly, including her waxing my smart-aleck ass in games of dominos, not throwing games just to keep me interested. Probably, those domino games were a catalyst for my being sure Birdbrain includes lessons in losing and falling flat.

Jumping ahead fifty years, here’s my family in 1952 or so, the cast of characters in Birdbrain, with Aunt Cleo who also makes an appearance. I’m the little brother in the picture. And since I’m a chubby old man now, I’m stunned by how slender, some would say how skinny, my dad was back then. Mercy.

For the sake of rounding out a century of our little branch on the McBride family tree, here is a favored photo of 2019. It’s grandson Rory with his great-grandpa Frank, who was the baby in the 1920 photo. Pop will cross the 100 mark this August, and I believe he really will make it.

And because it’s my last blog post of the decade, #156 as if anyone but me cares, here’s a closing picture of me and Teddy, my youngest grandchild, at the beach last summer. Gotta love the grands.

Happy New Year! May the decade of the 2020’s be a wonderful one for you and yours. Nita and I will just have to get over that we’ll both be eighty when the new decade ends, but then again, we understand that old is better than dead, and dead isn’t really dead for followers of the Way. We’re good.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Girl Meets Dragon Diorama

Last week, I visited my brother who lives in Chattanooga. I bet that I’m the only old man around who can ask his brother—an even older old man—if he might dig out a pair of plastic dragon wings for me to use for a project. Of course, Johnny dug around in several boxes of fantasy wargaming stuff until he found just the brace of big brown bat-wings I was hoping for. When I picked up a metal miniature of a dying horse from a pack of Custer’s Last Stand cavalrymen, he said sure, take it. Then he dug around some more and offered me a miniature of a slender hands-on-hips young lady in a floor length dress and long tresses. Three for three.

Back at home I fetched my zoo-store-purchase plastic horny toad, drilled holes into her back for the wing-studs, and repainted the miniature horse and gal. After a trip to Hobby Lobby for a $3 wooden oval base, I put the pieces together for a tasty ‘Girl Meets Dragon’ diorama. See the pics.

It’s not just a ‘Girl Meets Dragon’ vignette. It’s a Leine Meets Mally Standing Over the Dead Carcass of Marble, Mally’s Prized Appaloosa Filly” vignette. Over Mally’s strenuous objections, poor Marble became Leine’s supper, putting girl and horny-toad dragon off to a rocky start to their budding friendship.

The diorama will go with me to the weekend living history festival near Houston called Texian Market Days. I’ll have my book stall set up on vendor row, earnestly peddling my novels and my co-authored non-fiction history book.  I’m hoping that perhaps the little 3-D display will draw enough attention to sell a few copies of A Different Dragon Entirely.  I’m even more hoping that folks strolling by my book stall will buy some copies of my new Civil War novel, With Might & Main. 

While I do truly enjoy chatting with folks, hawking my books at outdoor events, the fact is that  relentless self-marketing is one of those necessary facets of independently publishing one’s novels. It’s great having my books on Amazon’s online bookstore, but unless Oprah chooses one of them for her book club, those face-to-face sales are important.

Since it's mid-October and the Houston Astros are in the World Series, and their best player is a guy named Altuve who is as short as I am, which is really unusual in the Big Leagues, here’s an old photo of me during my Little League days in the early sixties. 

I was probably the worst Little League player in my town or in any town. I was truly bad, but I enjoyed putting on the duds. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed two decades of being a Civil War reenactor.  And not to mention they don’t keep score in reenacting. 😊  

Happy Halloween.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Stacks of Books

With Might & Main is for sale on Amazon!  With Might & Main is for sale on Amazon! Whew, I’m happy to say that. I’m hoping it’s my best book yet.

I’m a tree hugger and I love books, so this photo probably shows the best dead tree anywhere.
The tall stack of wooden books prompted me to pull off the bookcase the volumes I used to research With Might & Main. In comparison, my books about the Civil War in Louisiana in 1863 and 1864 are a short stack. 

It would be a much taller stack if I could have figured out how to include the many online websites I used. It bothers me a little that those sources exist only in my laptop, but boy, were they helpful in ‘digging deep’ after some bit of arcane information.

The cover image of With Might & Main is a remarkable small painting that is also a poignant primary source. The painting is a rendition of the Battle of Milliken’s Bend, a small engagement, almost lost to history. Milliken’s Bend was a landing on the west side of the Mississippi River, a few miles upriver of Vicksburg. There, on June 7, 1863, while the siege of Vicksburg was ongoing, an all-Texan force of Confederates assaulted a similar-sized garrison of Union soldiers who had fortified a section of flood control levees.

The painting is the work of a 19-year-old Texas soldier who was wounded in the hip during the Texans’ attack. After he fell, he sat and watched the hand-to-hand fighting on top of the levee. After the battle, he was taken to a field hospital where he created the painting while a patient in the hospital. The young soldier was named David Batey. He was a private in the 17th Texas Infantry and lived near Bastrop, Texas before the war. He died in the field hospital of his battle wound, probably from infection, which is a slow and painful way to go. Someone saved his painting and somehow it was returned to his family. A fold is visible, suggesting it was mailed. A relative of Private Batey still has it.

While Private Batey’s painting is primitive, it also is chock-full of clearly defined details. Batey portrays many of the Rebel soldiers wearing red shirts and suspenders rather than gray jackets. Muskets are upended being swung as clubs. There are ‘bombs bursting in air’ and billowing smoke from two steamboats behind the levee in the river. A Confederate soldier is waving a captured Union flag. The bloody dead and wounded litter the ground.

All in all, the image is a fairly spectacular painting of the small vicious battle at a location that has since been covered over by a course change of the Mississippi River. You can’t walk the ground or climb the levee where 1,400 white Texans and a like number of black freedmen from Louisiana went at each with ‘hammer and tongs’ in the first battle for all of them. But you can look at the battle in color from the viewpoint of gallant Private Batey and imagine being there.

And you can make my day by ordering With Might & Main to read during the interminable ads during football games on TV.  Here is a link to my author’s page on Amazon where any of my novels can be ordered.

Let me see, should I buy a Whataburger to eat during the game or McBride’s new book? Choices, choices.