Friday, June 17, 2016

Fathers Day

First memory of Faris Hayter, I was an embarrassmen

From L to R: Cousin R.D., Mark, Dennis, Dad
As usual, I don't have a clue.
As usual, I don't have a clue. 

    I had a dad for right at 30 years. For the first three of those 30, I don’t remember a thing about him. I’ve got a piece of paper that says when my body showed up on this planet, but my retained consciousness didn’t arrive till three of four years later.

I don’t remember anything about Daddy until Thanksgiving of 1952. Dad had taken the family to the Foley’s Thanksgiving Parade in Downtown Houston. From my prospective we were standing in the front of a tall building that was surrounded by other tall buildings. And, every person in the world was standing with us. I couldn’t see a thing but the posteriors of about a dozen people in front of me. Occasionally, there was a gap allowing me to see men wearing hats. There was a time when men wore church-going hats practically everywhere they went.

The parade was noisy as all get out. People laughing, drums beating, horns blaring, children screaming… not a sad scream. It was almost pleasant, as I remember. I kept Mom to my right. She had a diaper bag around her shoulder and was clutching in both arms a wadded blanket with my kid sister in the middle of the wad. Jill was only about seven months old, so her memory of the time is somewhat shady. Blank, in fact.

I wouldn’t have remembered it either had Dad not decided to give me a better look of the goings-on. Apparently, I was wearing a bewildered look. I wore that a lot back then. Still do. Anyway, on a whim, Daddy suddenly reached down, picked me up and twisted me in the air so that I landed on his shoulders with my feet dangling.

Dennis must’ve retrieved Dad’s hat, because it flew off when I latched onto Dad’s head. And, boy, did I cry. It was really more of a scream that had no hint of pleasantness to it. That was the moment Dad realized his fifth child was afraid of heights.

Dad kept me up there for probably a half-minute, in the hope I might calm enough to enjoy the view. He was a dreamer. With my scream becoming discernable among all of the happy screams, he pulled me up and off, and placed me back on terra firma. I don’t remember Dad’s exact words, but I do remember his tone. Later, I recognized it as the voice of disappointment.

I don’t know if the parade was a family tradition or just a spur of the moment thing. What I do know is that it was the last time the family ever went.

    I would like to say that was the only time I remember disappointing my dad, but that’s just not the way of real life. Truth is, I had a great home life that included two caring and loving parents and the best brothers and sisters in the universe. However, as caring as Dad was, he was no Jim Anderson or Ward Cleaver. I’m not sure anyone was.

My father was an only child, raised by his dad, Grandpa Ed. My Grandma Pearl left early in my dad’s life, apparently because being a sharecropper’s wife during the Great Depression just wasn’t a part of her plans. If you had known Pearl, you would’ve picked up on that immediately.

After Dad left home, Grandpa Ed married my Grandma Nancy. She was the soul of sweetness. Daddy ended up a father with a wonderful wife and seven kids. Mom was pretty much our June Cleaver, only she was not opposed to giving whoopin’s. At the end of the day, if no one had gotten a whoopin’, we drew straws. (Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration.)

However, there was no question that Daddy ruled the roost. I’ve written dozens of stories about Faris Hayter. In fact, my fourth article, published in December of 1980, was titled “Our first Christmas without Dad.” Like several of you, I spent more Christmases without my father being around than with him.

When I learned that Dad had just suffered a heart attack, I raced to the hospital just in time to learn that he had passed before I got there. The family gathered in the hallway where we hugged on Mom and each other. I never cried. The next day we made plans for the funeral. I contacted people from Mom and Dad’s church, and Larry and I called family in Oklahoma. I didn’t come close to even tearing up during the telling of Dad’s passing.

With all plans made, and everything running smoothly, Kay and I went to what is called, the “viewing” at the funeral home. I stood with friends and family and laughed about old times. I greeted each visitor with a smile and handshake. I was a brick… up to the time my friend Kenneth Nichols walked in.

Kenneth, a tough guy who worked outdoors all his life, and had hands that felt like callused steel. When he walked up to me, I held out my hand for him to take, but he brushed it aside and put his arms around me. It was in the grip of that dear man that I started bawling. I thought of the sacrifices my Dad had made for his family; for the times he borrowed money and worked over-time to pay off the expenses that always follow family emergencies; for the many dreams he had for his life that never came close to reality.

My memories of Dad cover some of the greatest and some of the worst times of my life. Over the years, I have realized what a blessing it was to have experienced both. To state the obvious, we are the sum of all our life’s moments. 

June 19, will be the 36th Fathers Day without my Dad being around… if you don’t count the first three years of my life when I don’t remember him being around. My respect for that man has grown with each year. Some might call that selective memory. I see it as the result of the grace that both Dad and God demonstrated in the life of our family. – Happy Fathers Day to Dads everywhere! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Be kind to snakes

An interview with the Nature Man
Photo of me after my first 
snake encounter

    I’ve made no secret of the fact that I really like nature. I’m interested in birds, trees, caged bears, a couple of rodents and a bug or two. No worms. Not a fan of the worm. I have issues with any creature whose head looks a lot like its rear. Come to think of it, I don’t like baboons, either.

    All other creatures interest the daylights out of me, and that’s the reason I chose to interview my favorite naturalist and newspaper columnist, Jerry Walls. If Jerry shared his bio with more people, his name would be chiseled above the entrance of zoos and nature museums all over the South.

And, get this, for 15 years, Jerry has been the Courier’s nature columnist. That’s the big reason I called him and asked if he’d agree to be interviewed by Kay and me on our “Hanging with the Hayters” show. ( Jerry wasn’t all that crazy about the idea at first. For some reason people have trouble taking me seriously.

I told Jerry that he wouldn’t have to drive from his home in Florida to be on our radio show. I’d just give him a call from the studio. He could pick his topic. Well, the show aired last week at noon and Jerry chose to talk about snakes. Snakes, a frightening creature that I neglected to include in my first paragraph up there. Jerry said that with torrential rains we had been getting, there will be snakes a-stirring. But, not even a mouse. (He didn’t say that last part.)

Turned out, Jerry’s talk on “Snake Encounters” was very informative and helpful for all listeners and Kay. Jerry lost me at the very beginning when he said, “Snakes are more afraid of you than you are of them.” Give me a break!

    Hurricane Alicia, 1983, the power was off at the Hayter house. I grabbed the flashlight and rolled out of bed. My mission? Obvious. The minute my bare feet touched the floor, the light beam caught a two-foot long squiggly line dart from under the bed to behind the chest of drawers. In, oh, a nanosecond I was seated in the middle of the bed, practically on top of Kay. My knees were under my chin.

    Kay is a light sleeper. Her bony right elbow hit my left kidney with enough force to make me drop my flashlight. I told her it was me. She said she knew that. I told her that we had to sell the house… today. Fully furnished. You’ll have to go to the 1983 Courier and Villager archives to see what happened next. Not one of my prouder moments.

    I chose not to interrupt Jerry with my story. He went on to say something about the six venomous snakes in Texas. Three of ‘em are rattlesnakes. Pygmy, timber, and diamondback. Then you’ve got your copperhead, water moccasin and coral. He told us about the “red and yella, kill a fella” key to discerning between a coral and the other snake with red stripes. I think it’s a king snake.

    The fake coral snake is red and black. Jerry told us to remember “Red and black is okay, Jack.” He apologized that he knew no idioms about snakes that used female names. I like naturalists who have a sense of humor.

Jerry said that if you’re out and about and encounter a snake, you should just walk away. Snakes do not chase people. They generally strike only when cornered or threatened. The guy obviously didn’t see the movie “Anaconda.” I was getting ready to bring that to his attention, but, from across the table, Kay read my look. She gave me the international sign for death. You know? The slit-your-throat sign?  Kay’s always been good with signs.

    I don’t know if you noticed back there, but I mentioned “venomous snakes,” not “poisonous snakes.” Jerry said that all snakes are non-poisonous. (Except those with heavy bacterial issues.)  Instead of poison, they have venom. Venom is good for curing illness. Especially, illnesses caused by venomous snakebites. Again, I didn’t get to share that info with Jerry or our listeners.

    We were educated as to the many benefits of snakes. Did you know that many house fires are caused by rodents chewing through electrical wires? I had no idea. Snakes eat rodents, ergo, they have prevented many a house fire. Instead of Smokey the Bear, it should be “Smokey the Hog Adder.” Yes, I kept that to myself.

    Rats were responsible for the Black Plague in Europe. Had they had more snakes, perhaps there would’ve been no plague. Saint Patrick thought he was doing a big favor to Ireland by running out all the snakes. That could well be grounds for de-sainthood, you ask me.

    One story that Jerry neglected to share was the one in the newspaper awhile back. The story is out of Bangkok. And, I’m not making it up. It reads:

“A Thai man is recovering from a bloody encounter with a 10-foot python that slithered through the plumbing of his home and latched its jaws onto his penis as he was using a squat toilet.”

Turns out, it took his wife and a neighbor 30 minutes to unclamp the jaws of the snake. I’ve got so much more I’d like say about that, but Kay proofs my articles.

    Our time with Jerry Walls ended too soon. I’ll beg him for another interview in the near future. One thing I want you all to remember from this. -- The next time you’re out and about and see a snake, remember to – Just walk away, Renee. – And, that’s a rhyme about snake encounters that uses a girl’s name. – Next time.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

The responsibilty of dog ownership

Dog days and nights
Tracy nor Jill got this dog

    It was an interesting week here at the Hayter house. Kay’s brother, Tracy, visited and stayed for three nights. He brought his dog Maggie along. Tracy is the lead guitarist in a band that was playing at the Boogie Bar and Grill over on Walden Road. He needed a place to crash. That’s what band people do. They crash. 

    I got in a good visit with Tracy. That guy is the funniest person I know. He’s a master of misspeaking and mishearing. I’d give you an example, but my brain won’t hold a joke for over three minutes.

    Kay got in a good visit with Maggie. Maggie looks a lot like Benji. Kay likes Benji dogs… and all other dogs. And, as some of you know, Kay really wants a dog. Fortunately, we had the dog conversation before we married. Kay doesn’t get a dog. I don’t get a motorcycle.

    Maggie isn’t a big problem for me, because she catches on to body language. Do you ever watch Caesar Millan? If a dog is being a bit rambunctious, Caesar says that you are to ignore the creature when you enter a room. No touch, no talk, no eye contact. As soon as the dog calms down, you can reward it by touching, talking and looking at it.

    I seldom reach the reward stage. Maggie picks up on that and leaves me alone. She’s a really a cute dog, so, at times, I’m tempted to give her some baby talk. But, I don’t baby talk animals. Just people. Baby people and adult people acting like babies.

    The day after Tracy left, Jill arrived with Rugby. Rugby is a girl dog that looks an awful lot like Maggie. Only, Rugby is younger and full of energy. Jill has had her dog for only a few weeks. Rugby has yet to grasp the concept of body language. As I was ignoring her, she did a 270-degree cold nose on each of my bare legs.

    Eventually I patted her on the head and it seemed to calm her down a bit. Calmed her down right up to the moment I sat down with my cup of coffee. I immediately folded my legs so as to make it impossible for the dog to climb into my lap. That’s when I discovered that Rugby can jump. Without hesitation, she leapt and landed right in my lap. Fortunately, she got no coffee burns… largely because the hot, one cream, one sugar concoction was immediately sucked up by my cotton gym shorts and deposited in my groin area.

    So as not to make Jill feel bad, I managed to muffle my scream as I hurried into the bathroom. Afterward, I assured Jill that Rugby just did what dogs do. Dogs jump on people and things, they chew on things, defecate and pee on things and they sniff other dogs and people’s things.

    That’s pretty much why Jill got rid of her first two dogs. She thought dogs would act more like people, only nicer. She ended up having to find homes for her first two experiments. She didn’t ask whether or not she should try another dog, so I had to give her a suggestion. I’ve given Jill way too many unsolicited suggestions. I was right about her first two dogs, but I’m fairly sure I’m way off the mark with Rugby. Rugby will work out fine. – Beg pardon? Yes, that was a grin.  

Now that my sister has a dog, she’s going to do something she’s always wanted to do. – Go camping. Actually, she’s always wanted to camp with Heath Ledger, but that’s no longer possible. But, at one time, she was this close to making it happen. ( - ). See?

Jill went ahead and bought one of those tents that pops up when you throw it on the ground. It’s got a bunch of twisted plastic hoops in it that provide stored inertia that’s just waiting for an opportunity to inert. I’m nowhere near wanting one of those things, but as soon as it comes with a popup air conditioner, I’ll be this close to wanting one. (--)

I wish I enjoyed camping without a motel, but I can’t bring myself to even consider it. Can’t bring Kay, either. That girl would come closer to sleeping behind the refrigerator. But, Jill? Jill has a wandering spirit. A wandering something.

She asked me, “Moke, should I bring newspaper to start a campfire?” I told her it wouldn’t hurt. Then she asked me, “Does the newspaper go on top of the firewood or under it? And, when I get the fire started what do I put the hamburger patty on so it can cook?” 

I had to do some serious thinking before I could respond. I eventually came up with. “Jill, by everything that’s just and holy, don’t do this.”

There is something about my opinion that really strengthens a person’s resolve to ignore it. The only opinion I ever had that carried any weight was the one I gave to Kay about not wanting a dog. I told her she would get a dog over my dead body. She told me that I could get me a motorcycle as long as my second wife approved. – To this day, she’s remained dogless.

And, me? I don’t even want a motorcycle. I only told her I did so it would appear that I was willing to make a tradeoff. -- I should write a book for husbands. Not for brothers, though. I’m failing miserably in that category. – Next time.