Saturday, May 26, 2007

They Call Her, "Ann."

Sometimes I refer to Ann Lowell as my “big sister” and other times as my “older sister.” Both of these descriptions are correct. Ann Lowell is my big sister but she is not big. She is petite and she is beautiful. And she is older because she was born first. Some four year prior to my coming along.

But there is more description of my sister than words can express. Of course she is beautiful on the outside. Always has been. She was one of the prettiest girls at South Park High School in Beaumont. She began her days at South Park as a freshman in 1945 and graduated in 1949. She had lots of boyfriends. They all seemed like nice guys. I made friends with most of them. A few of them didn’t want anything to do with the “little brother.” But this one thing I knew. If any of those guys did not like me then they did not stand much of a chance with Ann Lowell.

There was Ray, the pilot. He flew single engine airplanes. His favorite plane was the Piper J-3 Cub. He also rode a motorcycle. I thought he had pretty well hung the moon. Airplanes and motorcycles. How much more perfect can a guy be? Well our dad wouldn’t let Ann ride with Ray in an airplane and he would not let her ride with him on his motorcycle. It’s amazing how some dads just don’t get it.

Then there was Richard who rode a horse. He would come over to the house on his horse to visit Ann Lowell. Richard was nice and he was funny. I liked him. I even liked his horse and fed the horse apples whenever I could. Dad liked Richard but not the horse. Now, Dad liked horses in general but he did not like horses coming into our front yard on Pipkin Street in Beaumont. Horses do things in front yards that they ought not to do. Dad told Richard to park his horse on the side of the road and not in our grass. He told Richard that our grass was green enough without the blessings of a horse.

Then later Sid came along. Sid lived over on Kenneth Street just off of Elgie Street in South Park. He would drive his old 1938 Ford over to the house to visit Ann Lowell. He always parked along the edge of our front ditch. That made ruts in the grass that made mowing more difficult. Dad did not like that. But he did like Sid. In 1952, Ann and Sid got married. A few years ago I attended their 50th Wedding Anniversary. Looks like their marriage is going to last.

But my heart is heavy as I write these accounts. My big sister has just undergone back surgery in Beaumont and now she is in rehab. She had fourteen nerve pinches repaired. She is experiencing quite a bit of pain and that makes me sad.

You see, little brothers love to tease big sisters. I always loved to trick her and try to outsmart her. That’s what little brothers do. But there is this one thing I need to share: I want only the best things in life for Ann Lowell. I do not want her to be in pain.

The years are advancing on the both of us. We know that our physical health will take a hit now and then. But I do not want anyone or anything messing around with the welfare of my big sister.

No kidding. I love my big sister. She is one of the best friends I ever had.

Winston Hamby --
The Beaumont Enterprise

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Your Snoring Is Disturbing Our Naps ...

Mr. V. E. Leewright was everyone’s favorite teacher. In fact he was voted Teacher of the Year in 1952, by the student body of the old South Park High School in Beaumont. I took civics from him when I was a junior in 1951-1952. This story should in no way cast any aspersions on his outstanding teaching qualities and his charming rapport with us kids.
Fact of the matter was that civics class met immediately following the lunch period. I had a mannerism of becoming very sleepy after eating. Thus I always was sleepy in Mr. Leewright’s class. Civics was a very important subject but it did not help to stir me from my lethargic siesta tendencies. While Mr. Leewright was busy explaining the finer points of politics and how they affected our lives, I tended to drift away.
I knew better than to sleep in class but there just had to be some way to combat the drowsiness. So, I started writing down little nonsense verses. Poetry, if you will. While these verses lacked any depth whatsoever, they did entertain my mind enough to keep me from nodding off right in front of Mr. Leewright. My theory was that if he saw me writing he would think I was taking notes on his lecture.
One day, Mr. Leewright told the story of a raccoon that lived in a tree behind his house. I tried to listen but fell into writing a verse. Here is that verse:

One day about noon
I took a spoon
And ate a gray raccoon;
But very soon
I upped the ‘coon
‘Cause quote, "There wasn’t room.”

I know that the raccoon had to do with Mr. Leewright’s story. The eating part most likely came from the fact that I had just eaten lunch. The nauseous part came from who knows where. I coined a phrase based on this story, “A drowsy brain sparks little to dwell upon.”

Another time, Mr. Leewright was explaining about the Justices of the Supreme Court and how that their decisions affect us.
I really tried to pay attention but ended up with the following:

Several important black-robed men were sitting in a room.
The first asked of the second, “What is doom?”
The second replied, “It is the end.”
The first then said, “Thank you, my friend.”

It is difficult to comment on nothing so let’s move on.
One day Mr. Leewright taught us about the U. S. Senate and the House of Representatives. That topic was fairly fascinating, but sleep was trying very hard to overtake me. The following emerged:

A roomful of men are deciding our way.
They raise their hands with a Yea or a Nay.
If listening closely you’ll hear them say,
“Let’s call a recess, it’s been a long day.”

I guess the “roomful of men” was my vision of Congress. There were no women in Congress at that time. And I knew that they voted with “Yea” or “Nay.” Always wondered why they didn’t just say, “Yes” or “No.”
And one day I missed lunch. This meant that I had to attend class on an empty stomach. Drowsiness did not give me many problems but my stomach was crying out for some nourishment.
Thus this verse:

“I’m hungry now, I hadn’t ‘et;
I hadn’t had time To do so yet.
But I’ll eat soon, You wait and see;
I’ll eat and eat Till I fill me.”

I made a “C” in that civics class
That could have been better or worse;
The one thing I have for sure from that day
Is a collection of civic-minded nonsensical verse.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Almost Isn't Quite Isn't ...

Can you remember any occasion in your past where you almost did something but did not quite do it? And have you ever wondered what would be different today had you gone ahead and done that thing that you did not quite do?
For example, one summer afternoon in Nederland when I was 4-years old, I was playing with some dirt clods in a vacant lot beside our house. I spotted a snake coiled up inside an old coffee can. The snake was tan in color and its head appeared to be a light shade of orange. I reached my hand toward the snake with the idea of picking it up. It was a beautiful creature. The snake proceeded to stick its tongue out at me. This struck me as being funny so I ran and told my mother about the funny snake in the can. She rushed outside, saw the snake and tried to kill it but it escaped her fury and disappeared in the weeds. She called it a copperhead. I’ve always wondered what would have happened had I picked up that snake.
Some years later when I was 15-years old, Dick York and I were out north of Beaumont hunting in the woods near Pine Island Bayou. Yes, I was a South Park High School Greenie and he was a Beaumont High School Royal Purple, but we had set the rivalry aside and had become good friends. Anyway, I held a machete in one hand to cut back the brush and branches as we forged our way through the woods. I carried a J. C. Higgins 12-gauge shotgun in my other hand. Dick was coming along right behind me. He was carrying a Mossberg 20-gauge shotgun. All of a sudden I felt a strong gust of wind blow past right above my head and there was a deafening explosion. Then all sorts of twigs and small branches began falling down all around us. Dick’s shotgun had fired accidentally. That blast was so close to the top of my head that it combed my hair forward. After the shockwaves subsided Dick explained that, “I wondered if my safety was on so I pulled the trigger to find out.” Later, I teased Dick by telling him, “ I know that you’re a Purple and I am a Greenie but there’s no need acting radical about it.” I never told my mother about that. She always worried when I went hunting and I didn’t want to compound her consternations. But if that shotgun blast had been a few inches lower, I wouldn’t be sharing this account with you.
Another afternoon I was hunting alone somewhere in the Big Thicket between Silsbee and Sour Lake. I lost my bearings and wandered around for hours trying to find civilization. Darkness began to creep in as the sun settled lower and lower. Just as I was about to really panic I happened upon a two-lane highway. Then I saw my car parked about one-half mile away. By the time I reached the car, it was dark. While driving back to Beaumont, I thanked God over and over for taking care of this wandering, foolish child. I’ve always wondered what an unplanned overnight stay in the Big Thicket would be like. But I never really wanted to find out.
Then there was the time I nearly set the woods on fire out at Twin Lakes. Or that night as a kid living on Pipkin Street that I almost set our house on fire. Then there was the time I almost fell off of an 18-foot stepladder while trying to change the marquee in front of the Jefferson Theatre during a gusty wind.
I almost did not write this column because it was so painful to remember all those moments in time.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Secrets of the Old Coil Springs ...

The sounds were interesting but I didn’t know what they were. And I could only hear them at night when I was in my bed. If my head was on the pillow, I couldn’t hear them at all but if my ear was flat against the mattress, the sounds were loud and clear. This was not all of the time. Just sometimes. Now you may be as confused as I was when I began hearing these sounds. Let’s start at the beginning.
When I was four years old, my family moved to Beaumont. Our house was in the 1300 block of Pipkin Street, in South Park. There was a bedroom for my sister and a bedroom for my parents. I slept on a single bed situated beside my parent’s double bed. This arrangement was OK for a while but as I got older, my parents decided that I needed my own room. We had a screened back porch that ran nearly the width of the house. Dad boarded up that porch and constructed a nice room. Then he moved my bed into the new room. This old bed had been in our family for years. It had those big old coil springs and the mattress was very comfortable.
One night, shortly after moving into my new room I was in bed ready to sleep. I enjoyed listening to the Poom-Poom sounds of the steam pumps that operated out at the Spindletop Oilfield. But on this particular night I heard something else in addition to the pumps. It was a beeping sound and it was not coming from the oilfield.
This occurred several times throughout the ensuing weeks. This is when I figured out that if my head was on top of the pillow, I would not hear the beeps. But if my ear was flat against the mattress then the beeps could be heard. That is, most of the time. “Weird,” I thought.
One night when I was in bed, the sounds started up. I called my dad into the bedroom. Dad was a brilliant man. He was valedictorian of his high school senior class. He could solve math problems in his head without even bothering to write them down. He passed the C. P. A. exam without ever taking a college accounting course. If I ever needed to know something I knew that I could just ask my dad.
Dad came into my room and I told him about the sounds. He pressed his head down on my bed but didn’t hear anything. I explained how it happened at times but not all the time. He looked at me like he might be a little concerned for my sanity. But anyway he told me that he didn’t know what I was hearing. I was disappointed. There was actually something that Dad did not know.
After a few minutes, Dad returned and said, “I know what it is. You’re hearing Morse code in the coils of your bedsprings.” He had it figured out. The coils in my bedsprings were functioning as a radio receiver and picking up code signals. Likely the signals were coming from oil tankers in the Gulf of Mexico as they approached Port Arthur. Or perhaps there was an amateur radio operator somewhere in our neighborhood. But we really never knew for sure where the code originated.
I decided to learn the Morse code so that I could understand what was being communicated. However, it was several years before I learned the code and by that time I was sleeping in a new bed.
I’ll never know the secrets of the old coil springs.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise