Saturday, December 30, 2006

Column Right ...

Sometimes it is hard to get started. I am not talking about getting myself started although some mornings do seem tougher than others for my aging body. I am not talking about my car although there are times when the old car tries to get into the act. Rather I am referring to getting started when writing a column. Hopefully the first sentence of a column will grab a reader’s attention to the point where that reader will feel compelled to keep reading.

My editor has rejected a couple of my columns over the past year or so and I am glad he did. They had no storyline and/or didn’t make any sense. An editor will watch out for stuff like that.

So the first thing a columnist needs is a good column idea that hopefully will hold the interest of many readers. As a guest columnist I have to “try out” several ideas before coming up with one that may work. Usually I try them out on my wife. If she likes an idea I will work to refine it. If she doesn’t like something I’ll set it on the shelf for a later time or pitch it into the trash.

Following are examples of “First sentence Ideas” that I never did submit to the editor. Why? Because my wife was not impressed with them. Read on:

Wife Reject #1: “Why the bluebirds flew over the rainbow is beyond me.”

My wife said that she failed to see the point of interest. When I tried to explain the point, I lost interest as well. And most likely the bluebirds did not fly over the rainbow in the first place. And if they were high enough to accomplish such a feat, how could you determine what color they were?

Wife Reject #2: “Everyday seems like just another day of the week.”

My wife turned her thumbs down on this “start” with the explanation that it was old news. I told her that I was not trying to make news; rather I was trying to sound poetic. Still she was not impressed. So the truck carried that one off along with the rest of the garbage.

Wife Reject #3: “Walking from point A to point B is not always easy when the wind is not in sync.”

This caused my wife to ask, “What’s the point?” This was a question that I could not answer having not thought that deeply into the matter. I had to admit that it was pointless. So once again my wife saved the editor valuable time and the anguish of having to reject another column.

Wife Reject #4: “Going to and fro and back and forth, etc., can make one dizzy in the head and tired of body.”

The wife told me that this seemed to go nowhere and trying to read it just wore her out. I did save this one for later use but have just not had the energy to work on it.

Wife Reject #5: “Lightning bugs, mosquitoes, crickets and roaches were common household pets in our neighborhood.”

OK, my wife said that this one was just horrible. I tried to explain that this was just the way it was. She told me there was no way that I should even mention this at all, that it wouldn’t fly. Oh by the way, we had flies too.

So getting started on a column is the hardest part for this guest columnist.

The next hardest part is in knowing how to end a column.

(And by the way, my wife rejected this column but I submitted it anyway).

Winston Hamby
Beaumont Enterprise
December 30, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

I Go Pogo

There’s a little guy I used to read about all the time back in the ‘50s. His name was Pogo Possum who lived in the fanciful Okefenokee Swamp. He also lived in the newspaper comics and in a couple of books I kept under my bed.

Pogo had many great swamp friends such as Albert Alligator and Porky Porcupine. Walt Kelly, the renowned cartoonist created this popular Possum as well as the others. It seems that Dell Publications wanted to try getting an original cartoon character up and running along with the well-established Our Gang and Donald Duck.

But really this is not about Pogo Possum and his swamp friends per se. Rather this has to do with the wisdom wrapped up in his outlook on life. Wisdom also is known as common sense, the ability to know what is right and true. In other words, good judgment.

As a kid I did not realize just how wise Pogo was. But in later years, some of his remarks emerged from memories that carry a lot of meaning. For example one of his more famous quotes was telling Porky Porcupine that, “Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.” This slogan originated with Walt Kelley in 1970 when he used it on a poster for Earth Day. In 1972, this was the title of a book, “Pogo: We Have Met the Enemy and He is Us.”

The context of the foregoing quote had to do with a trash-filled swamp. Evidently Pogo thought we were trashing our land away with … well, with trash, so he identified correctly the culprit(s) of this misdeed. Us!

But the meanings of this story go much further than the pages of a book or comic strip. Most of the time, “ourselves” cause our problems. I remember when Mom would give me a spanking. My general practice would be to mope around following the occasion and sob a bit with the hopes of receiving a little sympathy. Mom would say something like, “It won’t do you any good to cry,” or “You don’t have anyone to blame but yourself.” Always knew that was true but never admitted it. Yep, I met the enemy and it wasn’t my mom. The enemy was “me.”

Or like the time I hid our lawnmower behind the garage so I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn. My dad searched for the mower and finally decided it had been stolen. But before calling the authorities somehow he knew to look behind the garage. Then, somehow, he knew that not only had I hidden the mower but had lied when I told him I didn’t know where it was. Did you know that when you roll a lawnmower through St. Augustine grass that the grass stays bent over for up to two hours? All Dad had to do was to follow the tracks. My backside got a good reminder in character training. It must have worked. I was about 10 years old and to this day I have never hidden another lawnmower. Yep, I met the enemy and it wasn’t my dad. The enemy was “me.”

Now when Pogo was feeling good about something, he would say, “Within, I is all a’glow.” I learned early on that I would feel “all a’glow” when I chose to be a good boy.

And so we live with the decisions we make and we walk along the paths we take. And really our problems are not everyone else’s fault. I know from personal experience that Pogo Possum was right when he said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Winston Hamby
Published Beaumont Enterprise
Saturday, December 23, 2006

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Surety of Purity ...

As a new reader at six years of age growing up in Beaumont, the first “grown up” sentence I learned to read was, “Be Sure With Pure.” This slogan was on bill boards around town and at service stations. I did not realize at the time that a Pure Oil Company existed. All I knew was that if you wanted to be sure of something you needed to do it with Pure.

I had already heard of Ivory Soap, “the floating soap.” That soap was 99 – 44/100% pure. Guess I just didn’t care enough to ever ask, “Pure what?” But I did figure that if you used soap that pure, you would be sure of lots of things. But mainly I liked the soap because it floated. I always enjoyed taking a bath with Ivory Soap because of its floating characteristic. The soap made a great “ship at sea” in the imagination of this six-year old. But my mother had other ideas. She said the Ivory was strictly for the kitchen so there went my ships.

Somehow growing up with the idea of being sure with Pure has stuck with me all my life. By the time I was 8 years old, I realized that Pure Oil was a refinery and/or a petroleum product. I liked all of the service station logos. Sinclair’s dinosaur always fascinated me. The Texaco Star appealed to me. Made me really proud to be a Texan. And I liked that oval with the word “Humble” written across the middle. And of course I really went for that Flying Red Horse. And have you wondered why the horse is red? And why is there a red “o” in Mobil while the other letters in the word are blue? These were questions I had as a kid and still do not know the answers.

A joke circulated around during my early high school days that went something like this. There was an old refinery worker who decided one day that he should start going to church and get some religion. So the following Sunday he eased into a church service and sat on the back pew. A man stood up on the pulpit and started leading a prayer. He prayed, “Lord, bless the Pure and the Humble.” The newcomer on the back pew yelled out, “And don’t forget the Flying Red Horse.”

Anyway, when I was 15 years old, my family moved from Pipkin Street in South Park to Voth Road (Concord) in north Beaumont. That was quite an adjustment for me as most of my friends lived in South Park. However, as I began looking around my new neighborhood I began to feel more at home. One thing I was especially happy with was that right across the street from our new house was a small business called Barrett’s Grocery. There was a gasoline pump out in front. The big sign on the pole said, “Pure.” So there we were right next to a Pure Oil Station. I felt good about that because it made me feel more confident about our move. In other words I felt, “Sure With Pure.”

The Pure Oil Company has an exciting history. The company furnished all the gasoline for NASCAR racing for years. And then after the merge with Union Oil of California, the name we saw most of the time was Union 76 or Unocal. And gasoline was still furnished for the races, most of it refined at Nederland’s Smith Bluff refinery.

Even though I don’t see anymore Pure Oil signs, I still feel a confidence in life gained from the first sentence I ever learned to read, “Be Sure With Pure.”

Winston Hamby
Published in The Beaumont Enterprise
Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sunday, December 10, 2006


News came that Pearl Harbor had just been bombed. The day was Sunday, December 7, 1941. This was the beginning of a unique education for a six year old boy living in Beaumont, Texas. I had never heard of a Pearl Harbor. I didn’t even know what one looked like.

Mrs. Ruth Hill’s first grade class had a few changes in curriculum. We learned what to do in case bombs were dropped on J. L. Giles Elementary School. Mrs. Hill taught us how to walk orderly to the cloak room. The cloak room was a separate area at one end of the classroom where the students could hang their jackets and raincoats. We would sit on the floor along the walls of the cloak room. This would lessen our chances of being hit by flying glass, falling bricks, bullets, or whatever.

We pupils joined a U. S. Savings Bond program. War savings stamps were sold. When the correct amount was reached, which I think was $18.75, the stamps could be redeemed into a $25 Savings Bond. One of my favorite assignments as a pupil was to carry the stamp money to the school office each morning to purchase stamps for the class. I marched down the hall to the office. I figured a soldier wouldn’t just walk.

Also, we learned war songs. We would sing them in class and in auditorium assemblies. One song I remember is “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” It went as follows:

Yankee Doodle went to town
To buy a stick of candy,
But on the way he saw some bonds
And said, “They’ll come in handy.”
Yankee Doodle keep it up;
Yankee Doodle dandy.
Buy War Bonds and Stamps today
Instead of so much candy.

Then there were the practice air raids. We called them “blackouts.” Every house had to have black curtains installed. When the sirens sounded, the curtains were pulled. Even though there might be lights inside the houses, the curtains would prevent light from being seen on the outside. This was designed to confuse enemy bombers that needed light to locate targets.

My dad was an air raid warden. Every other night or so, we would have a blackout. Several men from the area would come to our house. Then they would patrol the neighborhood, looking for lights and fires. Any house found with lights showing would receive a knock at the door and a command to close their black curtains or douse the lights. I enjoyed walking with the men until an official from town said that I had to stay at home.

Rationing is another memory I have of WW II. We could buy just so much sugar every so often; that is, if sugar could be found. Coca-Cola had to stop using sugar. The Cokes had another sweetener. I believe it was something like honey. The Cokes tasted really awful.

Gasoline was hard to come by. We could buy only so much gasoline for our family car. A slogan became popular, “Is This Trip Really Necessary?” A Star Taxi cab driver told my dad that the cab company was rationed to 50 gallons per week. All of this was regulated by the use of rationing stamps. If you used your weekly or monthly allotments up too quickly, you just had to wait.

One afternoon, in 1945, I was relaxing in the top branches of my favorite tallow tree. A buddy came over, looked up and told me that the war was over. This was good news for me because I knew that Cokes would get back to normal.

And so did life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Winston Hamby