Yesterday I learned via a Facebook post by his wife that a friend of 30 years has Altzheimer’s. We attend the same church, and Gary was a school board member in our small town when I was the high school principal. From time to time, he and I would lock horns over school matters, as opinionated men tend to do. But we got past those disagreements out of respect for each other.
What made things fun was that Gary and I look alike, so much alike, in fact, that sometimes we’d each be spoken to by someone who thought we were the other. We both enjoyed those mix-ups, because invariably that confused person would talk about school, bringing both of us a few “Ah Hah!” moments.
Dementia is one of the cruelest diseases I can imagine, and it is heart-breaking to learn that someone is afflicted. The best I can do is “pass the peace” as we do each Sunday at the beginning of our church service. So, “Peace and Grace be with you, Gary.”
Speaking of high school, my 50th high school reunion is this summer. I don’t know if I’ll go, but just a few minutes ago, I saw on Facebook a color photo snagged from our senior yearbook. The photo was taken at an after-football game dance at the Round-up Club, a teen spot in our East Texas town.
I smile now at the image because I’ve always pretty much been a wallflower in social scenes. I’m a sideline guy. Yet, there I am in the middle of this mob, the short guy sideways to the camera with the light-blue jeans and shirt, and a navy-blue dickie. Yes, a dickie. I was indeed Howard Wolowitz in the flesh in 1967, even if my hair cut was better.
That embarrassment aside, in the picture I’m talking to a girl named Polly who reads this blog, but whom I haven’t seen in several decades.
Two of my good friends from the day are also near me in the image. Garland is the big blond guy dancing with his back to the camera, wearing a blue and grey sweater. Gar died of heart problems two years ago after a career as a Navy officer.
Next to me, also facing away from the camera, is a tall, skinny drink of water named Wesley. He’s wearing a red plaid shirt, and was my best friend since we were twelve. Wes died a suicide victim in 1987, was an Army veteran, and a deeply troubled, but gentle soul.
So, the image is also sad to me, since I still mourn for both those guys, and for other friends from my younger years like Kenny, Greg, and Melanie, who’ve gone on to “their great waking-up day” ahead of me.
I’m learning that in spite of the joy of grandchildren and a long happy marriage to my beloved Nita, life is fragile, and sometimes gets a little melancholy, the older we get.
Moving on: I’m determined to link this post to my novel writing experiences of the past week or two, so here goes. If you look at the faces and arms in that 1967 high school photo, you should notice how very white everyone is. 1966-67 was still during the era of segregated schools in Longview, Texas. I led a very white teen-age life, rarely ever encountering African-Americans, Hispanics, or Asians. Not a point I’m proud of.
However, in my new novel that is set in central and south Texas in 1855, the cast of characters is a delightfully varied. Texas was a huge mixing pot of cultures in the 1850’s, as three major ethnic groups and multiple sub-groups violently wrestled over control of the vast landscape. Cheap land that was more or less empty did draw attention.
Milo Macleod, Jesse Gunn, and James Callahan are the main characters, all inspired by real men who were white Texans, having immigrated from Alabama and Georgia. But, the three are constantly encountering, in no particular order: Native American Indians, African-Texans, Mexican-Texans, German-Texans, Irish-Texans, and a visiting New Yorker who knows he’s in a “different country entirely.”
I’ve pledged to keep my blog posts non-political. I want this space to be my voice as a writer of historical fiction--and a grandpa. There are ample folks fussing about politics without me adding to the cacophony. Nonetheless, sometimes, old history stretches its long arm into today’s world.
I’ve not been able to escape that my book plot of 1855 parallels today’s political issue of building a bigger, longer wall in South Texas between us and “them”--our neighbors in Mexico. In 2017, it seems the wall will be a 30-foot-tall concrete edifice, challenging China’s great wall in scale.
Back in 1855, the South Texas “wall” was comprised of mobile companies of heavily-armed, mounted white men. Their job was to seek out Mexican bandits and hostile Native American terrorists to “punish” them for their unwelcomed incursions. (Punish meant killing as many as possible.)
My new book is a fictionalized account of Captain James Callahan’s mounted volunteer company, one of the more infamous ranging company adventures. Captain Callahan did not buy into the idea of Texas being a cordial neighbor to Mexico. He would have liked today’s great wall plan.
To be sure, in the 1800’s, the savagery of the Apaches and Comanche’s deserved that terrorist tag. Yes, they were fighting to defend their own homeland from the ever-increasing waves of a foreign race of immigrants. Yet, savagery is savagery, regardless of the reason for it.
We still use companies of roving armed men--and women—in the US Border Patrol and Texas State Troopers, but today’s “mounted ranging companies,” apparently are not enough. So, this year we’ll start building a bigger, better border wall just on our side of the international border with Mexico, to protect the same ground from new bandits perceived as a threat to our homeland. Texas is now our homeland, because after all, back in the 1800's we took Texas from the Mexicans and the Native Americans by force of arms, fair and square.
All of which makes me sigh. Sometimes, even after 162 years, we look up and see things haven’t changed all that much, and realize that finding the path to peace and grace, and neighborliness, is oh so slow.