Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Chess Player With A Story To Tell ...

I really did not like the man but was saddened with the news of his death. Saddened because of my love for him. I listened to every word he said and drank in each word of every book he wrote. He was extremely difficult to associate with although I never spent any time with him. In fact I never even met the man. Seemingly his foremost success was his greatest failure. His win was his loss. My “running around in circles” is caused by the abundance of information about this truly amazing person. Yet words fail me. Not a good quality for one claiming to be a writer.

History will affirm that Robert J. Fischer, known to the world as “Bobby”, was the greatest chess player of all time. Bobby learned how to play chess at age 6. He excelled in the game which he termed “a war.” At 15, he earned the title of International Grand Master, the youngest person ever to hold that title.

I never played a chess game against Fischer. He functioned in top-flight world class chess circuits. That left me out. I was only a “wood pusher” from Beaumont. But one day in Roswell, New Mexico, I did play an opponent who previously had won a game from Bobby. This man was International Grand Master Edmar Mednis. He visited the Roswell Chess Club giving lectures and demonstrations. Also he featured a round of simultaneous chess.

There were twenty-five of us seated along rows of tables. Each one paid $5.00 to play. Mednis took on all twenty-five of us at the same time. This meant there were twenty-five chess games going on thus the term, “simultaneous chess.” Mednis used an interesting ploy as he stepped around the room from one player to the next making his moves. He held in his left hand a paperback novel which he read as he moved his chess pieces with his right hand. This gave everyone the impression that he really was not too engrossed with all the chess games because he was more enthralled with his novel. Apparently it worked. He won all twenty-five games. His game with me lasted about 15 moves. Not only did he win all of the games, he also read some three chapters in his novel.

My dad taught me how to play chess when I was seven years old. He and I played the game at every opportunity. Also, he taught Ann, my big sister, how to play. She did not care much for chess and went on with other things in life. Things like playing jacks and dressing up her dolls. Well, you know how big sisters are. If you don’t know, ask any little brother. You’re in for a shock.

Dad used to visit in Nederland and play chess with my Uncle Bill Parker. I went along and watched. Uncle Bill had his own interesting ploy when playing my dad. Bill would whistle soft melodies while awaiting my dad’s next move. Dad told me that he did not mind the whistling but that he did not like for Bill to blow his breath on him from across the board. Anyway, as time went on, I had opportunity to play chess with Uncle Bill as well as with my dad. So I learned a lot early on.

Bobby Fischer was a genius but was totally lacking in social graces. He renounced his United States citizenship, married a Japanese woman chess player and moved to Iceland where he lived until his death in January, 2008.

Boris Spassky, former world chess champion dethroned by Fischer in 1972, said per telephone, “I am very sorry, but Bobby Fischer is dead. Goodbye.”

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Saturday, January 26, 2008

She Learned Me Lots ...

If you were privileged to know Juanita Murrah then you were among those blessed by her radiant personality. Miss Murrah was my fourth grade teacher at J. L. Giles Elementary School in Beaumont.

When fourth grade began for me I was “runt of the class.” What happened was that I started first grade in 1941 when I was five years old. Then I skipped the second grade because the twelfth grade system was implemented. This meant that I was seven years old when I was in the fourth grade. I felt “left out” of things because, well because I was left out. The other kids considered me to be the baby and I guess I was. Most of them were nine years old.

Miss Murrah was well aware of my quandary. She knew that I was still down on myself for failing the audition to play rhythm sticks in the first grade Christmas band. She knew that I was too young to be in the fourth grade and she acted accordingly.

One morning Miss Murrah called me to her desk and said, “Winston, I want you to play one of the leading roles in our upcoming Christmas play.” I was stunned. I was overcome with stage fright. I remember being a “star” in the first grade Christmas play but I did not have a speaking part. All I had to do in that play was to twinkle while Helen Wilshire, one of my classmates, read from the Bible about the Nativity. My mother told me that I was a good “star” but I knew that just being there twinkling scared me to death.

Anyway when rehearsals came around for the fourth grade Christmas play, Miss Murrah assigned me the role of Dibbs. Dibbs was one of the shepherds out in the fields when the angels announced to them about the birth of Jesus.

In the play I ran back to the “house” and yelled, “Rhoda, Saba, where are you?” Rhoda said to Saba, “That’s Dibbs, my brother. He has been out in the field tending the sheep. I wonder what he wants?”

Rhoda was played by Shirley Maxwell, the first red-haired girl I ever knew. Saba was played by Milton Magee. I have lost track of Shirley but Milton and I still communicate once in a while.

But back to the play. I came running onto the stage supposedly with much excitement in my demeanor. I told Rhoda and Saba about the angels appearing and the story they told about the Christ child. Then I ate a piece of bread which was supposed to be home baked but looked suspiciously like a slice of Taystee Bread.

The play was a success. Mr. Heartfield, our next door neighbor on Pipkin Street told my mother that I was, “ … headed straight for Hollywood.” David Bean, one of my younger friends told me that I, “ … looked funny wearing a dress.” Actually I was wearing a shepherd’s robe but David was too young to know the difference.

And a reporter was there from the Beaumont Enterprise. He took a picture of our play in progress. The picture showed Shirley, Milton and me on stage. The picture and write-up appeared on about page nine of the Enterprise. I cut out the letters, “The Beaumont Enterprise” from the top of page one and glued them to the top of page nine. Then I folded page nine and left it lying around the house for all to see. It appeared that our play was featured on page one. I felt important.

Miss Juanita Murrah was good for me. She was good for all of her students.

She was a good teacher.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Friday, January 11, 2008

Hamby's Pre-owned Car Lot ...

My son loves cars. I’ll explain. When I moved my family back to Beaumont in 1983, Brian enrolled at West Brook High School.

Brian wanted a car but was told that he would have to get a job and buy one for himself. I didn’t think he would go for that but he did. He bought a 1970 Dodge Swinger from Beaumont photographer Clem T. Webb. It was red with a black vinyl top. It was a beautiful six cylinder job and ran like a top. In fact I enjoyed driving it on occasion.

One afternoon I drove the Swinger over to a Texaco Station located on Delaware St. at I-10. While the gasoline was pumping I went inside the office to pay. Then I noticed that what I believed to be a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow had pulled to the pumps behind the Swinger. I stepped outside to get a better look. There by the door stood the late Mr. Ben Rogers, prominent and well-known Beaumont business developer.

I said, “Mr. Rogers, my son’s 1970 Dodge looks a bit plain next to your Rolls Royce don’t you think.” He replied, “I’ll tell you a secret. There are days when I would trade you even.” Quickly I extended my hand and sputtered, “It’s a done deal.” Mr. Rogers said, “Not so fast. This is not one of those days.” I acknowledged defeat and drove back home in my son’s Swinger. That’s as close as I’ll ever come to owning a Silver Shadow.

When Brian enrolled in college at Abilene, Texas, another chapter of automobile enthusiasm emerged. The first summer Brian was back at home, he landed a job driving for Domino’s Pizza. He came home one night and said that he and his manager were going to take a couple of days off and head over to Stephenville, Texas. And so they left.

We didn’t see Brian for two or three days and began to wonder if anything had happened to him. Then he showed up driving this lovely blue 1957 Chevrolet 210 Station Wagon. He purchased it from a junk dealer in Stephenville. And here is the rest of that story.

When Brian and his manager arrived at the junk yard in Stephenville, they intended only to buy some parts off of the Chevy. Brian previously had seen the car over in a scrap yard while driving down I-20. When they looked the car over it appeared to be in pretty good shape.

Instead of salvaging parts, they borrowed the battery from his manager’s car and placed it in the Chevy. After some doings, the motor cranked up and began to run. Brian went into town and bought a battery and a tire hand pump. To make a longer story short, Brian paid the junk dealer $600 for that Station Wagon, ran it through a car wash and drove it home to Beaumont. He had only one blowout on the entire trip. Simply amazing.

The floorboard was rusted out and while driving you could look down and see the road passing beneath your feet. This did not deter Brian. He painted signs on the rear windows that read, “I Mow.” He carried our lawn mower around in the back of that station wagon and mowed lawns in the Minglewood area located in north Beaumont.

Someday I’ll write about the green 1974 Plymouth Satellite that Brian arranged to have towed to our house. It never did run. He left it parked in our driveway for two years. Finally I called a junk dealer to come haul it off. Then there was the red 1966 Chevy Impala Hardtop that smoked like Mobil Refinery.

But those are stories for another day.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Angels Tell The Story ...

Have you ever met an angel? I think I met one the other day. Allow me to share this account and see what you think.
Actually this story began earlier that morning. I was driving to work and stopped for a red light. A homeless man was standing on a corner and he wanted some coffee money. I didn’t have any money on me but I did give him a dime that had been rattling around in the ash tray of my car. I went on my way and soon forgot the episode.
About 1:00 PM, I left my office and headed down the street to a fast food restaurant to grab a sandwich. There was a middle-aged African-American male at the counter placing his order for a cup of coffee. He was dressed really neat in his Metro Bus Lines driver’s uniform. I stepped in line behind him and awaited my turn to order. I happened to glance down at the floor and there at the man’s foot was a dime. I picked it up just as he was paying for his coffee. On an impulse I said, “Here is a dime to help pay for your order.” The man replied, “Oh no, that’s your dime. You found it and I believe that finders are keepers.” I said with a smile that I had given a dime to a homeless man earlier in the day and that maybe the Lord was returning it to me.
The man surprised me when he said, “You planted a seed and that seed will grow.” Then he further surprised me by asking me what I was going to order? He added, “I want to pay for your lunch.” I felt awkward about that and tried to dissuade him but the man insisted. He proceeded to pay nearly seven dollars for my cheeseburger, fries and a vanilla shake.
He was short twenty cents. I pitched in the dime I had found and the cashier who was listening to all of this added the final dime. Jokingly I said, “All of us are planting seed, it seems.” The man smiled. I explained that I was a retired minister and that no one in Houston had ever bought me a cheeseburger before. His eyes brightened as he said that he too was a minister. We shook hands. I told him that it was sometimes difficult for me to accept grace and that this was one of those times. He said he understood my feelings.
Then the man looked at his watch, took his coffee and left. I assumed he was driving a bus and had a schedule to keep. I decided to follow him out and thank him one more time but when I stepped outside, he was nowhere to be seen. It was as though he simply vanished.
I am not really sure what to believe about angels. I do believe in the Biblical angels and angels in Heaven. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament tells us that on occasion, we may entertain angels unawares. What does that mean?
If this gentleman was indeed an angel, why did I meet him there at the hamburger stand? What was his message to me? The word “angel” means “messenger” so evidently there was a message or lesson in our meeting.
Or perhaps the homeless man on the street corner was an angel. Maybe the second angel was sent to bless my life with nourishment since I had given the first angel a dime. The second angel spent $6.78 cents to buy me a cheeseburger, fries and a shake.
Angel or no angel, it was interesting to see how things played out .
It’s certainly worth thinking about.

Winston Hamby
The Beaumont Enterprise