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  • Blog Entries

    • By old scribe in old scribe's Blog 3
      Old timers will remember when the Readers Digest was ubiquitous and featured each month someone's ``most unforgettable character."
      Well, I've known a few. But I choose to rank Larry Swindell as the ``most" and I shall explain why.
       
      Swindell must be still living, since I can find no record of his passing. This would make him about 87 years old. At last report he was living back in his beloved Southern California. As late as 2014 he was still a very active writer. I have not seen him since he left Fort Worth 20-something years back.
       
      Here are some of the reasons that Larry, in my reckoning, stands out: He is the author of at least five movie star biographies, all of them more or less standards in that genre. He has bioed Gary Cooper, John Garfield, Carol Lombard, Spencer Tracy (so well that even Katharine Hepburn, who had refused to be interviewed about Tracy, sent Larry a letter of approval) and Charles Boyer.
       
      More than that, Larry is a bottomless well of knowledge about most everything. He knows or has known almost everyone.  He can rattle off obscure baseball statistics and trivia until the cows come home. As a youth in the LA area in the early 1950s he once double-dated with James Dean. Yes, THAT James Dean. Somehow, one of his friends as he grew up was actor Ray Milland. When Carole Burnett wrote her autobiography some years ago, she called Larry the smartest person she ever had known. They were part of the same group of young folks in LA, it seems.
       
      When he came to Fort Worth to be the Star-Telegram's book editor (this must have been about 1980) he was smart enough to enlist me to review some books. But when we talked, it was more often about baseball.
       
      Not long after they moved to FW, his wife, Elly passed away. She had been a Broadway singer and actress.
       
      I remember some years later I was walking down a hall at the S-T and met Larry in the company of an attractive middle-aged lady. She looked familiar. She was Pat Schroeder, who had recently been a U.S. senator. Larry was one of those people who do seem to know everyone.
       
      His family was originally from Texas, up around Quanah. He was proud that his father, a good amateur baseball player, had once caught Satchel Paige. Seems that a Paige -led barnstorming ``all-star" team of Negro League players came to town lacking their catcher. Larry's dad volunteered, and for a day was an honorary African-American (this was about 1940, far as I can tell) and Paige's catcher. Larry never mentioned any ball-playing of his own, but his son Tod was a star for Southwest High School and then played at Pan American.
       
      That's mine, but I'm sure we all have a most unforgettable person. Feel free to tell us about yours.
    • By FrogAbroad in FrogAblog 4
      It was while I was recovering from a broken leg I had the bright idea of riding in
      a cattle roundup.
       
      A few weeks earlier I was installing a light fixture for my mother-in-law and
      literally fell victim to a cheap wooden Walmart stepladder. My foot slipped
      forward on the bottom rung and I fell backwards into the kitchen floor. I thought
      it was a bad sprain, and I limped around the rest of the afternoon and evening,
      but the next morning there was more swelling and unabated pain, so I went to the
      ER to have it checked.
       
      "Tibial plateau fracture" was the diagnosis and I was in surgery before lunch. A
      six-day hospital stay and $22,000 later I was wheelchaired through TSA and three
      airports to get back home with an immobilized, fully extended left leg.
       
      As soon as the local traumatologist would permit I began physical therapy. It sort
      of reminded me of my freshman year at TCU on Elmer Brown's student trainer staff,
      except this time I was the guy hurting when my leg was flexed more than five
      degrees.
       
      And that's when I decided to sign on for the cattle drive.  
       
      It became a combination goal and reward, a measurable desired outcome: able to
      spend all day in the saddle by mid-March. I worked and sweated and hurt and came
      to appreciate Oxycodone almost as much as morphine. I was driven to be saddle-
      ready, and whenever the pain was at its worst I focused on riding again.
       
      A week before I was to fly to Texas the traumatologist said "you're good to go."
      My physical therapist said I wasn't.  But MD trumps RPT so I flew to Midland-
      Odessa and drove to Presidio in a rented car.
       
      The next morning I was introduced to Rojo, a dark bay gelding, my mount for the
      roundup. The first day we gathered the longhorn cattle from their winter pasture,
      from the rocky hillsides and patches of prickly pear and honey mesquites. There
      were some veteran cow-critters with horns an impressive five feet tip-to-tip, some
      younger bulls and heifers, and of course a few unbranded calves.  We herded them
      all to a holding pen where we ate supper and I crawled into a hot roll on the
      ground for the night.
       
      The following day we moved the herd to the branding pens at the main ranch
      house. Youngsters were vaccinated, tagged and branded, and when they were released
      and went bawling back to mama we noted who belonged to whom. I mugged and branded
      longhorn calves, the leg was holding up fine.
       
      On the third day we moved the cattle to their summer pasture. There was a caliche
      road running through the ranch and the old stock--they'd been through this a few
      times before--stuck to the road. But the younger animals, feeling adventurous I
      guess, they tended to wander away from the main herd. I'd begun the morning riding
      drag on Rojo, the place with the most dust and the worst view. So when I saw two
      or three yearlings head off to the right I turned Rojo off the road, kicked him in
      the sides a couple of times to convince him, yes, we ARE going through the brush
      again, and took off in pursuit.
       
      We caught and turned them back in toward the herd, but to keep them from running
      off again Rojo and I now rode flank, through the brush and occasional dry creek
      beds.
       
      Now Rojo's background was mainly as a trail horse, and he didn't especially like
      where I took him. I had to keep him away from the road where he wanted to be with
      his cayuse friends.  Eventually, though, the reality sunk into his little walnut
      brain that I was serous and we actually made a pretty good couple of hands.
       
      I mentioned the dry creek beds. Those were the things Rojo hated most. He'd slide
      on his hocks down one bank, then pick up speed to climb up the other. We crossed
      three, Rojo straining and sweating but doing an altogether good job of it. And
      then we came to the fourth creek bed.
       
      I was relaxed in the saddle, admiring the view and counting my blessings when we
      came to the next creek bed, and I felt Rojo's muscles tighten under me. In one brief moment
      of cowhand clairvoyance I knew what was going to happen next. I knew Rojo was not
      going to slide down one side and scramble up the other. Rojo was going to jump
      that creek bed.
       
      In an instant we were airborne, Rojo's hindquarters launching us up and forward,
      his forelegs landing us gracefully, safely on the other side.  I had no time to
      think before it was all over. I reckon I surprised Rojo as well as myself when I
      hollered, "Yeehaw, Rojo, let's do that again!"
       
      It was the shortest flight I've ever taken. Also one of the best, the one I'll
      remember for always. I looked around, and evidently no one had seen the feat. It
      was our secret, Rojo's and mine, a secret shared between a pretty good cow pony
      and an old cowboy with a busted leg.
       
    • By FrogAbroad in FrogAblog 0
      My Gran'pa and Gran'ma Dawkins were two of my favorite relatives, a couple of lovable characters. They were born and reared in rural Mississippi in the late 1800's, and Gran'pa always said he was 18 years old before he knew "damyankee" was two words.
       
      Anyway, they were kind-hearted, church-going folks who rarely missed a service at the little chapel a short ways from their place. It was a bi-denominational church since no one congregation could afford a full-time pastor, so they'd have a Methodist circuit preacher every other Sunday, and a Baptist circuit preacher on the in-between Sundays. I'm not sure if it would have qualified as ecumenialism or religious diversity, but it worked for that little band of Christians and provided the spiritual nurture and comfort they needed.
       
      One particular Sunday morning "Granny D," as we called her, wasn't feeling very good. She'd had some stomach pains for a couple of days and the
      Hostetter's Stomach Bitters she always relied on for relief just didn't seem to be helping her ongoing discomfort. But she was a loyal Methodist and that
      Sunday was the Methodist preacher's turn to hold services so she put on her go-to-meetin' best and she and Gran'pa drove down to the church house.
      Country church services are not known for their brevity. There was a Bible lesson, some hymn-singing, a testimony or two, a thorough and in-depth
      discussion of the community's prayer requests, a love offering for the preacher, and of course a sermon exhorting the listeners to continue trodding the
      narrow path of faith, repentance and good works.
       
      Now about halfway through the service Granny D's discomfort was pretty obvious. She was squirming and fidgiting in the pew, trying to find a position that would quell the complaints her stomach was making. Finally she seemed to find some relief, and leaned over to Gran'pa and whispered to him, "I'm feeling a little better, now. I just let go a long, silent fart so I'll be okay 'til I can get back home and take another dose of bitters."
       
      Gran'pa leaned over and replied, "And after you take that medicine, Hon, I think you need to check the battery in your hearing aid."
       
    • By FrogAbroad in FrogAblog 1
      This was previously posted in a General Forum thread.
      The Guatemala City garbage dump is the largest dump in Central America. About 500 tons of trash are dumped in it each day, and the 11,000 people who live and work in and near the dump rely on that garbage to survive.
      Before 2005 anyone could enter and do whatever they needed to do in the garbage dump. Families lived and worked inside the dump. They built makeshift houses and lived in garbage. In 2005 there was a huge methane fire that burned for days, and the government finally came in and made some regulations. They built a wall around the dump and limited who was allowed to work in it. The last count I read was a couple of years ago and about 5,000 work badges had been issued for dump workers.
      Each garbage truck is numbered based on where in the city it is coming from. The workers know the numbers of the richer neighborhoods, and fight for those trucks, as they will most likely get more valuable things. The workers use something like an "I call this truck!" system, laying a hand on a truck to claim it; once your hand is on that truck, you have the right to pick through it.
      Once the truck dumps its load, people begin to scavenge. They are looking for plastic, aluminum, food and cardboard, and of course anything that they might be able to sell. The men and women (and children over the age of 12, as that is the minimum age for working in the dump) fill industrial sized plastic bags with the various ‘treasures’. When they fill a bag of garbage, they sell it to a middle-man, who then sells it to the recycling companies. For a full bag of plastic, they can make 10-12 quetzales ($1.50), for aluminum and cardboard they get 3 quetzales per pound ($0.40). On average, a full days worth of work, brings in about 40 quetzales, or $5.
      A great find is discarded food, particularly from chains like McDonald's and Burger King. The workers will eat the food garbage, bring it home to their families, or sell it.  They are able to sell meat to street food cart vendors, who then re-cook it.
      At the end of the day, those who have not made their camp for the night in the piles of trash head across the street to their ramshackle huts. Tin and plastic and recycled materials make up the tiny, makeshift homes. The people living here are squatters and can be kicked off the land at any time. The alleyways of the neighborhood don’t look much different from the dump itself: Garbage piled high, street dogs roaming, dirty children running up and down the alleys
      A Boston Globe photographer was able to get a pass into the dump a few years ago and published this photo essay on the dump. Worth a look for some amazing and powerful photos of what life is like working as a front-line "recycler."
       

    • By old scribe in old scribe's Blog 1
      These are a few words from a column written 22 years ago last month by a former writer known to many of you....
       
      ``The result is that whereas `conservative' used to mean that one was dedicated to the preservation of the best of the status quo, but not blindly so, the word itself has changed. A conservative used to be thoughtfully dignified. He or she was probably well-off and protective of the monied interests, but with a sense of noblesse oblige. Somewhere along the line, the new conservatives started shaving their heads and preaching social revisionism. Conservatism became radical rather than conservative......
       
      ``Today's conservatives have bnecome all too often merely a clique of opposition to the `other guys', who may be a racial minority or merely anyone who disagrees about whatever issue makes them froth, such as abortion or gun control or welfare abuse or taxation.
       
      ``Conservatives used to be coolly superior, tough but above it all. The new conservatives go around feverishly fearing a catalog of conspiracies. Do you think the conservatives of years ago would have tuned in to Rush Limbaugh? Not on your Cal Coolidge autograph-model straw boater.....
       
      ``Of all the sins to which American liberals will need to plead guilty at St. Peter's knee, abetting the rise of single-issue zealots could be the worst.''
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