Log in

Top Stories        News         Sports

  • 2020: A memorial playlist

    2020MusicGRAPHIC 2020 Music

    By Chris Edwards

    I was going to write something here about the pettiness over the manufactured controversy as to whether or not someone with a degree in letters deserves the title of doctor, but I won’t plow that ground today. Instead, I’ll venture to put out something a bit more enlightening within this space.

    But in case you were wondering, yes, those with Ph.D.s are typically referred to as “Doctor.” I’m pretty sure nobody argued the semantics as to Stephen Hawking or Harold Bloom’s doctoral titles, and I’m sure Jill Biden did the work to earn that title as well, but I digress.

    If you are reading this, then congratulations, you’ve made it through this maligned misadventure of a year. In retrospect 2020 won’t likely be thought of as a shorthand phrase for great/perfect vision, nor will it be immediately synonymous with award-winning television investigative journalism programs. It will likely become a curse word.

    In between all of the waves of legendary figures from the stage, screen and letters taking their last breaths, the swells of unrest on our soil, the threat of “murder hornets” and the exhausting theatrics surrounding the presidential election, it’s been one helluva mess. Those are just a couple of examples to cite from the headlines. There are many more, and the obvious one that has dominated 99% of the front-page stories since March, well, I’m not going to mention it by name here. I’m going to keep this column free of that name, with the mindset that all efforts, advances and awareness will help vanquish it in 2021.

    Instead, what I’m going to do here is to make you a playlist to finish up this doozy of a year. I tried to think of a theme to put a fork in this year, in writing, and came up empty. However, out of all the passings we’ve weathered as a species this year, there have been a disturbing number of great musicians who’ve died.

    I’m going to craft you a playlist below comprised of many of those great artists. Your assignment is to cue these up on Spotify, Youtube or whatever means you have at your disposal, since most of you probably don’t do physical media nowadays. Plus, with cultural amnesia being what it is, there’s probably a lot of names and songs here you’ve forgotten about. So, relive and breathe a sigh of relief. You’ve made it, and although the artists behind these great songs listed below weren’t so lucky, their gifts live on.

    Saluting Late Legends: A 2020 Playlist

    John Prine: “Summer’s End” – John Prine was the poet laureate of the blue-collar American, and his unpretentious, masterful country-folk music never waned in quality throughout a long and storied career. This gem from his final album, The Tree of Forgiveness, is a bittersweet masterpiece. Try to get through it without shedding a bit of pain water. I dare thee.

    Charlie Daniels: “Long-Haired Country Boy” – What better song is there about living life free and easy? Say what you want about Charlie’s later-day incarnation as a political pundit, but early on, his musicianship and songwriting were unparalleled.

    Van Halen: “Everybody Wants Some” – It seems impossible to imagine the world of rock guitar without its virtuoso Eddie as part of it, but here we are. Although EVH recorded spellbinding solos and wrote some of the most iconic songs in the rock lexicon, there’s a feel-good vibe that permeates this tune more than anything else he and his band recorded.

    Jerry Jeff Walker: “I Makes Money” – You really can’t go wrong with any Scamp Walker tune. This jaunty acoustic number appeared on his first album, way before he became synonymous with the Austin scene and the freewheelin’ outlaw country sound. “I Makes Money (Money Don’t Make Me)” pretty much sums up JJW’s entire philosophy to life. Even though by the time he recorded his first record he was already a rich man due to the success of his eternal “Mr. Bojangles” song, he never wanted to be anything but a “Gypsy Songman” (as another of his classics is titled.)

    Billy Joe Shaver: “When the Word Was Thunderbird” – Over a circular four-chord groove, the greatest honky-tonk poet this state ever knew manages to lament a price markup on rotgut wine and conflate that heartbreaking issue with another kind of heartbreak. Be sure and find the version of this song from the Electric Shaver album, which combines Billy Joe’s ragged-but-right vocals and poetry with his son Eddy’s hard-rock guitar skills. Eddy was a monster talent gone far too young and now he’s jammin’ in heaven with his papa.

    Doug Supernaw: “She Never Looks Back” – Sure Doug Supernaw was a hitmaker and a big deal in the ‘90s, but he might have been the most underrated of all those Texans who hit the big time back then. Every song he recorded was a gem, and this number showcases just how cool and catchy he could be. This tune, off his third major label album You Still Got Me wasn’t the chartbuster that that album’s lead-off single “Not Enough Hours in the Night” was but it should have been.

    Joe Diffie: “If the Devil Danced in Empty Pockets” – Like his fellow ‘90s hitmaker right above him on this list, Diffie was most at home with traditional-leaning sounds, like this catchy story song from 1991.

    Hal Ketchum: “I Know Where Love Lives” – Another ‘90s hitmaker lost to the year that just wouldn’t relent. Armed with a soulful, incredibly expressive set of vocal cords and the mind and heart of a serious songwriter, this tune is one of those timeless classics that sounds like it already existed for centuries before it was released. Also: the way he holds that note at the end is just superhuman.

    Charley Pride: “Kiss an Angel Good Morning” – One of the finest vocalists in recorded music, Charley Pride was like a downhome Frank Sinatra, a consummate pro who excelled at interpreting songs, and oh what songs they were. This classic hit, from the pen of Pride’s choice songwriter Ben Peters, uses a great metaphor to demonstrate the duality of keeping a romance alive. I guess Mr. Pride is now kissing the angels good morning, for real.

    Justin Townes Earle: “Harlem River Blues” – This choice cut from Steve’s boy off his album of the same name just shows what a gift we lost all too soon.

    Bill Withers: “Lean On Me” – This song is one of the 10 or so classic American songs written and recorded in the last hundred years. If you’ve never heard it or you haven’t heard it in a long time, fix that, like yesterday. This song says it best, simply and beautifully, about something we all need. ‘Nuff said.

    KT Oslin: “’80s Ladies” – An oft-overlooked legend, KT Oslin had a stellar, but brief run of albums in the decade that this song references. It’s a catchy middle finger to ageism and sexism and should be a karaoke perennial.


    What do you think? Is this list appropriate for 2020? Discuss it here at the ETxN Forum.

  • A place to rest their heads

    EastTexan Spring2021

    Sleep in heavenly peace commits to ending childhood bedlessness

    By Chris Edwards

    In the classic song “The Weight” by The Band, a weary traveler’s lament known to every man, woman, child and beast, the late, great Levon Helm sings of someone looking for a place “where a man might find a bed,” to no avail.

    There are many who are in search of that same, seemingly basic amenity/comfort, including children, a fact that bothered Woodville resident Brian Smith.

    “I had no idea that children without beds was an issue, a problem at all. I simply never thought about it. I have always had a bed; everyone that I knew had a bed,” he said.

    Sleep in heavenly1

    Smith and his wife Deborah saw a story on a Beaumont television station’s news broadcast that reported on that particular issue and an organization fighting to end it, and it left a deep impression upon both their hearts and minds.

    The story was about a non-profit organization named after a line in the old Christmas time hymn “Silent Night.” Sleep in Heavenly Peace is a nationwide concern, and was began by a concerned church youth group leader named Luke Mickelson.

    Mickelson first encountered the issue of children without beds in his church and got a group together to build beds for a family in need. From that humble show of service sprung the organization, which became a non-profit with chapters around the country. Mickelson was even honored by CNN in 2018 as a “Hero of the Year.”

    The Smiths added an East Texas chapter of the organization to its growing roster on September 5, 2020, which was a quest of approximately 10 months.

    The couple investigated the practical aspects of getting a SHP chapter started, namely the cost of materials and the necessary non-profit paperwork, interest was fomenting, and several members of the community became interested in helping.

    With a group together, the “core team,” they had their first building event on that day in September, when they built six twin beds to donate to families in the county who were in need.

    Sleep in heavenly4

    “There are children in Tyler County sleeping on the floor, on a couch, in a chair, or are sharing an undersized mattress on the floor with too many siblings or otherwise in a less-than-optimal sleeping environment,” Brian said.

    The word got out quickly throughout the community, and Deborah said it was “an extremely rewarding experience” to see her desire to help the community pay off.

    Although the story on the news brought the issue into living color for Brian and Deborah, seeing folks who could use a hand-up was nothing new to Brian. He said he has done mission work in some of the poorer areas of Mexico, places “where one sees true poverty,” he said, and seeing how people lived left a deep, lasting impression, which came back in spades when he and his wife saw that broadcast.

    “Here, in the United States, to realize that our little county probably has hundreds of children without beds hurts my heart,” he said.

    Sleep in heavenly2

    “As a sentimental older man, I still get choked up when I think of the joyous reactions of the children we help. The feelings of peace and security that a real bed gives them gets me up for early morning bed builds,” he said.

    SHP currently has 240 chapters across the nation, and in Bermuda, and there are hopes to break into Canada in the near future.

    Anyone can volunteer at one of SHP’s bed-build events, and they do not have to bring anything, “except a desire to help others,” Brian said. The group will supply the tools, PPE, drinks, snacks and instructions.

    The Woodville chapter of the group hopes to be able to build sturdy, functional bunk and twin beds from dimensional lumber one Saturday each month during the 8 a.m. to noon time period. The volunteer-driven assembly line process allows most anyone to contribute.

    According to the chapter’s website, located at shpbeds.org/chapter/tx-woodville, anyone who wishes to volunteer can show up to the build day event or a delivery event, and those dates are available on a calendar on the site. There is also a link on the site to allow anyone who is interested in contributing financially to the cause, or to sponsor a build day.

    According to Brian, the cost to build a twin bed is $170 and $350 for a bunk bed, and all of the materials must come from donations. Each chapter of SHP must be financially self-supporting and entirely dependent on donations, which is all carefully accounted for, from local chapters through the national headquarters.

    The estimated monthly need for the SHP Woodville chapters is $2,500 to $3,000, which is enough to provide 14 to 17 beds per month, and this is the cost for the bare materials.

    The organization also needs tools, such as saw blades, drill bits and other items, such as gloves, safety glasses and many other PPE items.

    Brian added that for anyone who needs one of the beds, there is a place on the website to request a bed, and applicants can answer a few basic questions and submit. He and Deborah can also be contacted directly, at 844-432-2337 (extension 5757) or at PO Box 143, Woodville, Texas 75979, for anyone who might be interested in donating to the cause.

  • A sign of things that are coming

    tony farkasFILE PPHOTO Tony Farkas

    By Tony Farkas

    I ran across a story last week, and I got chills.

    It was run by a Houston television news outlet, so props to them. Full disclosure, though: I am trying to nail down a story myself.

    I feel that this event is significant enough, though, that I can mention it here, because I do have verification that it happened.

    Also full disclosure: I believe I’ve mentioned these things will happen. I just thought it would take a little longer, and have the weight of government meddling behind it.

    Seems that in early May, during a hearing involving a divorce case and child custody arrangements, District Judge Travis Kitchens ordered the parents to get COVID vaccinations in order to complete visitation.

    (This information was taken from the Divorce Docket filed in District Court in Trinity County.)

    According to the news story, the judge told the respondent in the case, the father, that he would not be allowed to see his children if he did not comply with the order.

    I’m pretty gobsmacked at that development, for any variety of reasons, but most notably is how a sitting, elected judge, sworn to uphold laws, asserted a non-existent authority and removed a man’s ability to not only visit his children, but make his own medical decision regarding this shot.

    Say what you will about it, the vaccinations are untested, not in the normal manner, and have been shown to occasionally have some pretty stringent side effects.

    And while there can be a long, arduous and even dangerous argument to be made that it should not be up to the courts to decide how to handle the end of a relationship (or even require a license to marry, for that matter), the issue here is demand that a private citizen submit to a medical procedure.

    All the while dangling the “carrot” of child visitation in front of him (and her), with the “stick,” backed by the force of law, of losing visitation privileges.

    Leaving aside the sketchy nature of the vaccine itself, the judge does not have the required medical background to make such decisions. That’s pure danger right there.

    The judge does, however, have legal training, and should understand that it’s completely against any and all rights, laws and even common sense for courts to start meddling in these areas. It’s frankly unconscionable.

    We citizens have civil rights. These rights, especially those enshrined in the Bill of Rights, are inviolate. If it comes down to the state, through legislators or court officials, making these decisions, then we as a society are completely doomed. Moreover, we as a species will be doomed.

    Will judges start ordering lobotomies for defendants who have been found unable to be tried because of mental incompetence, or by reason of insanity?

    Will people be ordered to abort unborn children, or conversely, ordered to have children, for whatever whim a judge has?

    Will people who have been diagnosed similarly, such as, oh, say, leprosy? It’s happened before, in Hawaii, and the government has a history of segregating people without benefit of trial, such as the Japanese internment camps.

    There are ample what ifs to throw out here, but that would be overkill. Suffice it to say that any medical decision cannot be made by anyone other than the interested party. Any lawmaker that proposes things like that (such as the current rage of vaccination passports), or any judge that orders procedures that are none of his business, they need to be voted out of office, or even recalled if egregious enough.

    The only other option, one that is unacceptable, is to give up all freedoms.

    Tony Farkas is editor of the San Jacinto News-Times. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • An East Texan guide to environmental consciousness


    By Caleb Fortenberry

    For most Texans and Americans alike, there is a notion that we as individuals should not be concerned with the environment. So, here’s some hard hitting facts to consider before you blow this article off.


    • According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2018, there were 292 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) produced in the United States. 69 million tons of 2018’s MSW were recycled. Of the total waste, 146 million tons went to landfills. The rest was either burned, composted, or used in various manners.
    • In 2018, the average household wasted 338 Lbs. of food and 102,953,370 tons were estimated to be wasted in total by industries.
    • The U.S. only recycles 14% of plastics.
    • Microplastics can be found almost everywhere, including in animals, which humans eat. Which means, humans can be eating plastics.
    • According to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) The sea level has rose 8 inches in the last century, with the last 20 years being twice the rate of the rest of the century. The rates have increased every year.
    • Nonpoint source pollution (pollution that doesn’t come from one specific spot) is the number one reason for pollution in water. Agriculture is the main source.

    MSW pie chartFILE PHOTO Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) pie-chart data according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 2018.

    So, here’s a few tips as to what you can do while living in the sticks of East Texas:


    Collect rainwater


    Many people around here garden or have animals to feed. With our area, water recharge happens quickly. So, it’s safe to save some of that rain. Just make sure if you drink it you’re using the correct filtration. You don’t want to worry about those pesky microbes.


    Recycle Glass


    Around here, it isn’t uncommon to see people having several hundreds of beer cans or bottles. Why not save and recycle them? You can even get money back from the recycling centers. That’s like saving coupons!


    Create a compost pile


    Composting can serve several purposes. For one, it can make great fertilizer for a garden. It can also cut down on your overall waste. No more extra trash bag leftover for pick-up day! If you get creative enough, you can make a hot tub with it too.


    Change your lights out with LED light bulbs


    This will save you money in the long run. Not only will you save more monthly, the bulbs will last much longer, and typically are brighter!


    Change your thermostat temp


    I know it sucks coming home to a cold or hot house after a long day at work, but you could reduce your electric bill drastically by changing your thermostat a few degrees. Or just turn it off all together! You won’t be home anyways.


    Avoid plastic


    If you can, use some old-fashioned dishes. Plastics are everywhere and don’t go away for hundreds of years. So, if you do plan on using plastics, and aren’t planning on recycling, try using Styrofoam. It only takes 50 years to go away, not 500 years.


    Don’t waste your food


    You can avoid wasting food by donating to the Southeast Texas food bank, or other food banks. Another tip is to buy farm market vegetables. Not only does it cut overall carbon emissions since the food is closer to the location of purchase, it also supports local businesses.

    Get into canning. Once you’ve used up the food you want, can the rest! You can save the food for later rather than just throwing it out. However, if its unavoidable, compost the food.


    If you want a well, instead of city water, protect your groundwater


    Dispose of motor oil properly. You can drop this off at several auto parts stores.

    Avoid pesticides if possible. Make sure you check the weather to ensure there will not be any rain several days in advance of spraying pesticides.

    If you have a groundwater well, think about these things. Any kind of chemical can seep into your water, but be especially mindful of herbicides, pesticides, motor oil, mothballs, paints, household cleaners, flea collars, and medicines.

    Think twice about having a well with neighbors that don’t care about your groundwater well. If you live downhill of someone that fertilizes, there’s a good chance your water is going to be full of it.


    Get a V6 for your next truck


    Everyone loves a big truck, but having a V8 for no reason isn’t helping anything. If you tow stuff, we get it, but if you need a truck for basic things around your home, why a have V8? All your doing is wasting gas. Nobody expects you to get a Prius in East Texas, but you should consider finding ways to save money and keep as many pollutants out of the air as possible.


    Switch to Solar


    Solar energy is a great way to break free from the hassle of paying a monthly electric bill. Not only does it lower your carbon footprint, you don’t have to rely on someone else to get your power back up after a storm. Bring on the hurricanes!


    Obviously, not everyone is into homesteading, but there is still some stuff you can take away from this. Even if it’s just saving money, it’s still helping the environment. We should all do what we can and maybe, collectively, we can make a difference.

  • Buying a drone can cost more than one might think

    IMG 2242CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB File photo of Tyler County Booster reporter, Caleb Fortenberry, flying a Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) while on a video production job in Conroe, Texas in March, 2020.

    By Caleb Fortenberry

    Every Christmas the Booster receives letters to Santa from children in the Tyler County region. This year a surprising number of children wished for drones.

    Parents should consider the amount of laws to be followed before the drone can be launched into the air.

    Before a recreational flyer can actually launch their drone, they must register it through the (Federal Aviation Administration) FAA. Not only do you have to pay for the registry, you must display the registration number on the drone and keep the proof of registration on your person while flying.

    Now, the exception is weight. If the drone weighs less than 0.55 lbs (250 grams) then there is no need for registry. Still, those drones are few and far between.

    weight applicibility FILE PHOTO Courtesy of the FAA website.

    There are several penalties not only on the federal level, but also through the state to be aware of. According to CHAPTER 423. USE OF UNMANNED AIRCRAFT of GOVERNMENT CODE, TITLE 4. EXECUTIVE BRANCH, if you take photos or video someone else’s property with intent to conduct surveillance, you can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor. If any image or video is kept, distributed, or displayed it is also a Class C misdemeanor and each image is a separate offense.

    But that’s not all, the property owner of the photos taken can enjoin a violation or imnent violation of $5,000 for the capturing of images and $10,000 for displaying, distribution, or use of the images.

    So, a child’s $40 drone that a parent buys for Christmas could ultimately lead to larger costs. Those are just charges through the state. The FAA is constantly tracking down on violations made. And each violation fine gets worse with less laws followed.

    If your child is older and the goal is to get into a photography business, do your research. There are far more laws and requirements and fees to face. You may live in an area where the airspace restricts drone flights. That could be problematic for finding a place to fly recreationally.

    You can own and operate a drone legally, but there are many repercussions that parents can face from the ignorance of a child. Be smart this Christmas, plan ahead, follow the law, and if you do get your child a drone, supervise the flights.

    You can read more about Texas drone laws at https://statutes.capitol.texas.gov/Docs/GV/htm/GV.423.htm and federal regulations at https://www.faa.gov/uas/recreational_fliers/

  • Easy Health Tips: Cut the Cheese

    N2101P60004CFILE PHOTO

    By Caleb Fortenberry

    East Texans love their fried foods, their sweet tea, and their cheese. With the new year and sitting at home from all of the Covid-19 issues, folks might have gained a few more pounds than planned.

    Goals change all of the time, but most of can agree we want to be healthy and we don’t really want to be overweight.

    Even if you look to be in fairly decent shape, you could be struggling with some belly fat, especially for guys with the “dad-bod”.

    Well, there may be some stuff you haven’t tried before. Take a look at the list of diets and routines that you may not have considered, to cut your stubborn love handles, belly jiggle, and thunder thighs.

    Cut the cheese!


    No, literally cut the cheese out of your diet. Cheese has a ton of calories in it. It may be the one food item that is sending you over the top in caloric intake. Some people go as far as reducing all fats, with a limitation of 20 grams per day. It may be a good choice for all you carb lovers

    No Soda


    Sometimes cutting out drinks help a tremendous amount as well. One coke contains 39 grams of sugar which is nearly equivalent to 10 sugar cubes for one 12 oz can of coke. Some people drink more than just one coke per day. Imagine the number of calories that would be dropped from this, should someone decide to cut their bad drinking habits - several hundred per day.

    Pick carbs or fats, not both


    If you have a fairly balanced diet, no fried foods, no junk food, then chances are you’re mixing carbs and fats each day. Try changing it up. If you plan on eating fatty proteins like beef, don’t eat any carbs that day. Likewise, if you’re eating chicken or poultry, eat some carbs! Grab a sweet potato and go to town.

    Try fasting


    Some people’s metabolisms just aren’t working fast, which means you probably need to eat less or workout more. Either way, intermittent fasting is a great way to burn off those calories early in the morning. It only sucks for about a week or two.

    Fasting cardio


    Fasting cardio is similar to intermittent fasting. Basically, before you do anything in the morning, especially before you eat, go do some cardio. You burn off about 20% more fat on an empty stomach while doing cardio. So, you could actually cut your workout time down too!

    If all else fails, get help


    Sometimes people try on their own and can never succeed at losing weight. It’s very trial and error. Not every diet works for everyone. Also, some people have thyroid issues or just have chemical imbalances they have no control over. If you’ve tried and failed, there’s no shame. Talk to your doctor and get the help you need.

  • Entertainment replaced with McCarthyesque lecturing

    N1511P12003CFILE PHOTO

    By Tony Farkas

    I grew up as a dependent of a man who spent 20 years in the military, and as such, bounced around the world a bit.

    Part of that time, I lived in an area that had no television, and that was during some (or most, depending how you count) of my most formative years. What I did have, though, was an Air Force Base where movies cost 75 cents to get in (50 cents for the matinee).

    While school was in, my viewing was limited to the weekends, but summer was a free-for-all.

    Mind you, this was in the dark ages when there were no VCRs, DVDs, DVRs, iPads or Pods, or anything that was handheld. You physically attended a screening in a theater.

    (Another benefit of the dark ages, though, was the serials and cartoons that were shown before the main feature. That, and the Star-Spangled Banner played before each movie, and Lord help you if you didn’t stand and remove any caps you were wearing.)

    There were many movies consumed, and all were enjoyed, even by someone as young as me, who didn’t quite understand a lot of the adult themes, but all of them were appreciated for one thing — they were transportative.

    I was Bruce Lee in “Enter the Dragon.” I was Joe Kidd in Eastwood’s movie of the same name. Kier Dullea and myself were one and the same in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” I still know all the lyrics and parts to “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Who didn’t want to be Billy Jack, fighting oppressive jerks like Bert Freed?

    The thing about the movies I saw, and oh so many others, is they were enjoyable precisely because they told me a story, one that could absorb me into it. Some of them even had a moral, like in the case of Billy Jack, but the story was crafted well enough that I came away feeling that something did need to be done about the oppression of people who were different, but I wanted to be Billy.

    Hollywood in its heyday did that for everyone. In the early part of the 20th century, Hollywood helped people deal with the stress of two world wars, countless battles, poverty, the Depression, you name it, in the same manner it did me — by telling a story.

    People could be Fred Astaire dancing, or Errol Flynn swinging through Sherwood Forest, or Clint Eastwood chasing down Scorpio, or any number of things.

    Nowadays, though, Hollywood doesn’t tell stories. Hollywood lectures, sometimes surreptitiously, sometimes blatantly, but all the time pushing an agenda.

    Evildoers such as Scorpio, a madman, have been replaced by corporations who exist only to exploit the masses, or police officers who hope to bring about their own brand of justice on either the poor, the African American, or the alphabet people.

    In an effort to promote equality (assuming, of course, that there’s massive inequality), instead of telling a compelling story to show us why things were right, we’re clubbed over the head about how we’re wrong.

    (That, of course, usually means middle class white people, because we’re always wrong.)

    Television, the little brother to the movies, is the same. Entire stations are dedicated to pushing a social agenda (watch Bravo or The CW sometime). The difference remains; we’re not changing minds with compelling drama and thought-provoking stories. We’re clubbing people with an endless stream of ham-fisted “truths” that, frankly, accomplish the opposite. I’ve stopped watch shows that care more about the message than the story or characters (“Supergirl” is a prime example).

    This is not to say that those issues don’t deserve attention. They do. We as a country are entirely too fractured to not take things seriously. That can be done through the media of television and movies, but as long as there’s the club, and not the carrot, all that’s accomplished is the loss of viewers.

    Besides, Bruce Lee and Harry Callahan can make things happen.

    Tony Farkas is the editor of the Trinity County News-Standard. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  • Festival to benefit special needs camp this weekend

    Shinyribs102220PHOTO COURTESY OF SHINYRIBS.ORG Kevin Russell of the popular Austin-based roots rockers Shinyribs will headline the annual Hogs and Strings event.

    By Chris Edwards

    TYLER COUNTY –This Saturday will provide area residents starved of entertainment and fun as of late (no thanks to COVID) a chance to have just those two things.

    The third annual Hogs and Strings cook-off and music festival is scheduled for this Saturday at the Indian Springs Camp, located near Kountze. The festival will feature a variety of sounds from some of the most popular musical acts across the state, and some from the region, as well as a barbecue cook-off.

    The gates will open at 10:30 a.m., and the price of admission for the event is $10 at the gate. Each ticket, according to the event website, enters the holder into a raffle with five chances to win some great prizes.

    The Indian Springs Campground is home to a special-needs camp, which allows children, wounded veterans and their families the chance to get back to nature through events such as hunting, camping and fishing.

    The origins of the came go back to 1985, when a dream was hatched to build a camp where inner city and underprivileged children could go and enjoy nature, according to the website, and it was built in 1987. In 1998, it was expanded to include programs for disabled children and veterans, and along with the help of Texas Parks and Wildlife, the camp began offering a hunting program.The event features a hog cook-off, and food sampler tickets will be available for festival goers.The music lineup features a variety of acts guaranteed to appeal to lovers of great tunes.

    Legendary singer/songwriter Walt Wilkins, who has blazed a path as an influential solo artist through the years, and led the band the Mystequeros, will perform.The popular roots rockers Shinyribs, led by Kevin Russell, will headline the event. Shinyribs’ fusion of cosmic American roots music has endeared them to audiences across the state, and beyond, and their energetic stage show is always a treat for listeners of all ages.The music schedule will also include a group of singer-songwriters playing in the round to kick off the entertainment at 11 a.m., and consists of Courtney Mock, Pug Johnson, Southpaw Smitty and David Pool. Regional favorite and guitar guru Tim Burge will also perform.

    The camp is located at 6106 Holland Cemetery Road in Kountze. Indian Springs Camp is a 501 c/3 non-profit organization, and all proceeds raised from the event will go toward the outreach the camp offers.

  • Great gourds: Warren man grows giant pumpkins

    1CHRIS EDWARDS | TCB Rusty West poses with one of his giant pumpkins. Several average-sized pumpkins lend an interesting comparison.

    By Chris Edwards

    WARREN – It all begins with a seed. From the mightiest oak to a pine sapling out in a field, they all started as a single seed. Humans and their endeavors are like that, too.

    It’s a concept that Rusty West has learned in both his calling as a preacher and with his hobby of farming.

    West, who calls farming “therapeutic,” grows various crops on a five-acre spread right up the road from where he grew up. The fourth-generation Tyler Countian, who pastors the Hillister Assembly of God church, was known at one time for growing watermelons that grew in excess of 100 lbs. apiece.

    He recalled fondly the truckers who would stop as they headed from Houston, and how they would look at the fruits of his labor he sold on the roadside with a degree of shock and surprise.

    Although West said he stopped growing his watermelons a year ago (“You learn to not grow anything you can’t pick up,” he joked) he brought the same “go big or go home” mentality to his next endeavor in growing a different kind of gourds.

    West has moved on to giant pumpkins, and although the exercise in Murphy’s Law that 2020 has been tried to derail this goal, he still grew several that weighed nearly 400 lbs. or more.

    “They’re just really fun to grow. It takes a lot of tender-loving care, and you’ve pretty much got to mess with ‘em every day,” he said.

    He planted his pumpkin seeds on June 3 and picked them on Sept. 13. His goal was to grow a pumpkin that weighed 500 lbs., and although he did not meet that mighty weight, three of them weighed 395 lbs., 420 lbs. and 434 lbs.

    It’s all the more impressive when one considers that an unwelcome guest named Hurricane Laura decimated most of his pumpkin patch.

    2PHOTO COURTESY OF RUSTY WEST Rusty West poses with one of his 400+pound pumpkins prior to picking it in September.

    Next year, West said, he will plant them a little later, and instead of setting the goal at 500 lbs., he’s aiming for 700.

    The pumpkins he’s grown, thus far, are quite a bit larger than the watermelons he once grew, and deemed too heavy to lift, however, with his tractor and some straps, he came up with a way to transport them after harvesting.

    While most common pumpkins range in size from a few ounces to the plump 15-20-pounders (yes, West grows those too) Giant pumpkins are generally described as any that weigh more than 150 lbs.

    West said the growth cycle for the giant pumpkins is 120-130 days, and in the last week of growth, they can grow up to 50 pounds per day.

    While he was growing his patch of giants, he fertilized them every week, and gave them plenty of attention. He used pesticides to keep the bugs away, and used both a commercial fertilizer, as well as one of his own formulation.

    He said the giant pumpkins he grows are edible, and there have been some reactions of disbelief. West told a story about a passerby who saw one of the pumpkins and West outside his home. The traveler stopped to talk to West, and asked him where he’d bought the giant plastic pumpkin prop, or what he’d thought was a giant piece of plastic from some seasonal decor emporium.

    One of his goals for next year is to load up a giant pumpkin on a flatbed trailer and get it to the Tyler County Fair, where he’d like to showcase it as a prop for people to pose for photos in front of.

    Growing things, whether one is raising small fruit or giant gourds, is a gift. West is blessed with the knowledge, patience and attention to detail to pull it off. West credits help from the Lord above, as well.

    With all those traits and his mindset, he’ll go above and beyond next year’s lofty goal for the gourds.

  • Happy Days Diner & Tammy’s Country Kitchen

    EastTexan Winter2021 tammys 2EMILY WOOTEN | EAST TEXAN Fried steak fingers from Happy Days Diner.

    By Emily Banks Wooten

    “One, two, three o'clock, four o'clock, rock. Five, six, seven o'clock, eight o'clock, rock. Nine, ten, eleven o'clock, twelve o'clock, rock. We're gonna rock around the clock tonight.”

    When I heard that song during my childhood and adolescence I knew it was Tuesday night and time to gather around the TV with my family to watch the beloved sitcom “Happy Days” and see what the Cunninghams were up to. Oh, how we loved that middle-class family from Milwaukee and their idyllic life in the 1950s.

    While it’s not Al’s Diner and you won’t find Richie or Fonzie there, you will find some solid good food at Happy Days Diner in Shepherd, Texas. There’s a jukebox in the front corner and the walls are covered with pictures of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Humphrey Bogart, as well as a few classic cars.

    The menu is entertaining as all the dishes are song titles from the 50s and 60s.

    On a recent trip there, my 13-year-old daughter and I ordered the “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet,” which was hand-breaded homemade steak fingers with cream gravy, a choice of French fries or mashed potatoes, a house salad and a dinner roll. She chose brown gravy for her mashed potatoes while I preferred the cream gravy for mine.

    The plate arrived with four beautiful steak fingers that were each the size of the palm of my hand. I kid you not. They were first class. The meat was tender and the crunchy breading was perfect. I’d definitely order it again.

    the “Ooo Baby Baby,” which was two center cut pork chops, fried or grilled, with choice of French fries or mashed potatoes, a house salad and a dinner roll. He ordered them grilled and was a little disappointed. While they were seasoned perfectly, he said, they were so thin that they’d dried out during grilling.

    EastTexan Winter2021 tammys 3EMILY WOOTEN | EAST TEXAN Pork chops from Happy Days Diner.

    Our first experience at Happy Days Diner was in August of 2006. I was three and a half months pregnant with our daughter and we’d stopped there for breakfast on the way to Houston for a day of shopping and a movie. I had two scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and hashbrowns with a side order of chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and cream gravy. I ate and enjoyed every bite and didn’t think a thing of it. My sweet husband didn’t say a word but just smiled and continued drinking his coffee. Several days later, I accidentally overheard him telling my mother that he’d never given much thought to that whole “eating for two” thing but that he’d certainly witnessed an increase in my appetite as my pregnancy had progressed. We still laugh about that today.

    We’ve had something of a family tradition evolve over the years at Happy Days. After we’ve placed our order, to pass the time as we’re waiting on the food to arrive, we each select our favorite picture of Elvis and Marilyn from the selection on the walls. There are plenty from which to choose and it’s not uncommon for our individual faves to change from one visit to the next.

    And once you’ve satisfied your appetite at the Happy Days Diner, you may also do a little shopping. There’s a rack with a selection of T-shirts for sale, as well as a large array of hair bows and $1 hair scrunchies. You may also replenish your stash of Scentsy wax bars or Avon Skin So Soft.

    Happy Days Diner is located at 6230 US-59 in Shepherd. It’s open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. They don’t deliver but they do offer take-out. The telephone number is 936-628-6515.

    Some time back we received a circular in our local newspaper that was a menu for a place called Tammy’s Country Kitchen, east of Woodville. The menu touted the “best burgers in town” and “breakfast all day.”

    My husband and I decided to drive over one Saturday and check it out. I’d studied the menu pretty closely and had a fairly good idea of what I was planning to order. On the way over, however, I decided to look it up on my Trip Advisor app and check out the reviews. There were plenty and one after another raved over the burgers.

    EastTexan Winter2021 tammysEMILY WOOTEN | EAST TEXAN Cheeseburger and sweet potatoe fries from Tammy's Country Kitchen..

    My curiosity was definitely piqued so I changed my mind about my order once there. I selected a cheeseburger and sweet potato fries and my husband ordered a hamburger and onion rings. Oh. My. Goodness. The reviewers had not overstated. That may have been the best burger I’ve ever had. I’ve wracked my brain trying to determine what it was that made it so good and I still can’t put my finger on it. I do know, however, that there will be more Saturdays in our future in which my husband and I will drive over there for no other reason than to get those burgers again. We enjoyed both the sweet potato fries and onion rings too.

    Tammy’s Country Kitchen is located on 233 US Hwy. 190, one mile east of Woodville. Hours are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. The telephone number is 409-331-9

    While they don’t deliver, they do offer curbside pickup.

  • Holidays are time of year to address apostrophe usage (TOP 10 GALLERY)

    Photo ApostropheCHRIS EDWARDS | PCPC To pluralize potato, it’s just “potatoes,” not what you see on this sign.

    By Chris Edwards

    Think of the following series of words as they form sentences as a public service announcement, and one that, no offense, many of you need to read n’ heed.

    I am sick and tired of incorrect apostrophe usage, and as we are into the holiday season, it is a great time to try and set some folks on the correct path with regard to this most egregious of grammatical sins.

    Seeing apostrophes used incorrectly is many folks’ kryptonite, and for me, it’s a thing that makes me cringe and wonder where the offending party was in second grade when this was taught.

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve decided to not darken the door of an establishment due to signage with abused apostophes, or even the number of serious/official/informative/business e-mails that I could not take seriously due to the same factor.

    Within the English language, the purpose an apostrophe serves is to indicate possession or the omission of letters or numbers, such as in a contraction or an abbreviated year (e.g. “can’t” and “class of ‘99,” respectively.)

    The apostrophe also was apparently the favorite punctuation mark of the late, great Frank Zappa, as he named one of his best-known albums after it.

    If you are making out Christmas cards, or having address labels printed off, and let’s say your surname is Anderson, well here’s how to proceed: if you want to send your cards out on behalf of your entire family unit, the card and/or the label should read “From the Andersons,” NOT “From the Anderson’s.”

    Just think of all the times you might have received a Christmas letter or card with a label that read “Love, the Campbell’s,” or the number of those signs you might have seen in front of someone’s house reading “The Fulton’s” or “The Smith’s, Est. 2005.”

    When as a family, you are wishing someone else a Merry Christmas, there is no possession indicated in that message, and there should be no apostrophe. Adding that apostrophe only complicates things, and as stated earlier, it’s really annoying to a lot of people.

    Unfortunately, as basic grammar skills seem out of the reach of many folks in the hyperactive click-click-post environment we inhabit in 2020, the abuse of apostrophes doesn’t end with the incorrect pluralization of names. Just the other day, I saw a posting from someone trying to rent out a house, and they made note of how there were “no dog’s” allowed of prospective tenants. In a reply to an inquiry on the post, the original poster used “dog’s” about 20 times.

    So, not only does that look weird, it just does not make any sense and it is just plain wrong (as well as confusing.) Simply adding an “s” onto most words pluralizes it.

    As some of you might know from reading my scrawlings, I’m something of a connoisseur of good Texas barbecue. Here’s a quick story that proves the power of grammar. Once, out near Fort Worth I happened upon a ‘cue joint off the highway. They could have had the best smoked meats in the known universe, but the menu, which was posted up on the wall above a window where patrons ordered food, was full of “rib’s” and “link’s” and even “sandwich’s.” Oh, the horror! Again, the barbecue might’ve been legit, but I could not get past that menu and turned tail in hopes of finding another fine Texas ‘cue joint without such an unappetizing menu.

    If we can end this year on a positive note, let it be one that finds us steering away from this horrendous habit of misusing and abusing apostrophes.

    So if you remember anything, remember that during this holiday season (and every season) last names do not require an apostrophe to become plural, nor do nouns.


    #10. These Performances Own!

    10An oldie, but a goodie here – even major-label recording star Laci Kaye Booth wasn’t immune to concert promoters abusing apostrophes to promote shows back in the day.


    #9. Cool font, but totally ruined

    9Too nifty of a font for such a grammar sin.


    #8. You Can Find it All Here

    8If the guy’s name was “Trade Day,” this might work, but we doubt such is the case.


    #7. Cool Look, But...

    7.2The “h” dripping an apostrophe might look cool on this display, but there’s nothing cool about misusing apostrophes, folks.


    #6. Again, Cool Look, But That Copy Though

    6Hmmmm…the “professional” aspect of this is suspect.


    #5. Grammar Allergies

    5For those who have allergies to such things (misused apostrophes, that is, not pecans.)


    #4. A Pattern for Sure

    4Another example of a pattern of how the poor apostrophe is misused.


    #3. A Side of Grammatical Errors

    3Everything on this menu comes with a side of abused apostrophe. How unappetizing!


    #2. Behind This Door

    2What do only the employees possess that made this sign necessary?


    #1. Didn’t They Learn Anything from the Dan Quayle debacle?

    1So confusing! First off, to pluralize “potato,” simply add an “e” and an “s,” but questions abound. First – What is the one potato “by”? Second – $799 bucks is a lot for two potatoes.

  • I do not like culture wars with green eggs and ham, I do not like them, Sam I Am

    LIFESTYLE Cancel Culture Graphic 03 10 21COURTESY OF PIXABAY

    By Chris Edwards

    By now I’m sure most of you have seen or heard some variation of a sky-is-falling pronouncement on beloved children’s literature perennial Dr. Seuss.

    I’m sure many/most of you have also witnessed the army of Culture Warriors ™ shooting down “cancel culture” in response to the “cancellation” of the beloved Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss’s name away from his pen.)

    Some folks with nothing better to do would have you believe that “they” have “canceled” The Cat in the Hat and other staples of childhood from The Good Doctor’s pen (he actually wasn’t a doctor, but I digress.) This is not the case at all. What happened was this, and I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version of it, but my name is Chris, so I guess this is the Chris’s Notes version: Dr. Seuss Enterprises, which controls the publishing of his works, decided to cease the publication of six of his books. According to a statement released last week, the books “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

    None of the six books that are being yanked feature the Cat in the Hat or any discussion of green eggs and ham. Instead, they are titles such as And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and Cat’s Quizzer. Six books out of 60, and out of those six, I’ve only heard of one of those titles. Furthermore, the most recent publication date on any of these was 2004. From the examples shown in reportage of this story, some of the books include ethnocentric stereotypes of Asian and African characters.

    Withdrawing six books out of a large bibliography is not exactly cancelling an author’s legacy and/or availability. To draw a parallel from another end of the literary spectrum, with regard to age appropriateness, everyone should at least have name familiarity with James Joyce, even if they’ve not read a word of Ulysses or Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Did you also know, however, that he wrote a bizarre, nonsensical novel titled Finnegan’s Wake?

    I’ve never seen accounting for Joyce’s book sales, but I’ll bet Finnegan’s Wake probably sells in the dozens per year, when compared to the tens of thousands that the other two likely move annually. Would the public claim that Joyce is being cancelled if, suddenly, his publisher decided to withdraw Finnegan’s Wake?

    This is just the way the free market operates. Publishers pull titles that aren’t selling all the time, and it’s not just producers of printed media. There are probably more than a hundred records that I adore dearly, and all lost to the churn and burn of the marketplace.

    One of my favorite albums of all time is Mutilation Makes Identification Difficult by the mighty Denton, Texas-based melodic death metal band Brutal Juice. When the album was released in 1995, it sold in the wee thousands, an outcome that ended with the record going out of print and the band dropped from major label Interscope.

    When that album and band disappeared from the ranks of major labeldom, I don’t recall any custodians of popular opinion or congressional leaders decrying the lack of Brutal Juice in the mainstream marketplace or claiming the band had been censored or “cancelled.” Again, it was just the free market doing its thing.

    Fixating on “cancel culture” is pointless and stupid enough within common, everyday conversation and/or on social media channels, but when it boils over into places where legislation is passed, then it’s super-problematic.

    Take the case of Ohio congressman Jim Jordan who recently called for a House Judiciary hearing on the topic and claimed “cancel culture” is causing a wave of censorship across this great country.

    Add to that House minority leader Kevin McCarthy’s ridiculous political theater, which involved a five-minute video of his reading Green Eggs and Ham.

    When sitting members of congress use their position and influence to attack private companies for how they operate, it is governmental overreach, plain and simple.

    “Cancel culture,” if one has to call it that, has always been around. The only difference is, before it was not referred to in such a ridiculous way and governmental leaders did not waste time on such matters.

    Arguing about the gender of a toy potato or refusing to drink a soft drink because someone up the corporate ladder adopted some text from a tone-deaf training manual is ridiculous. Having members of the nation’s legislative body engage in such nonsense is not just ridiculous, it is extremely counterproductive. Instead of seriously looking into and debating the massive stimulus bill that just passed the Senate, congressional leadership wanted to talk about Dr. Seuss and an accompanying false bill of goods being sold to the public.

    Dr. Seuss may have published some outdated, and just plain wrong, depictions of people around the world early in his career, but he evolved, and now instead of thinking of broad stereotypes of ethnic groups, we remember lessons like “a person’s a person, no matter how small” (from Horton Hears a Who) which he wrote to atone for the anti-Japanese sentiments he expressed early in political cartoons he created.

    Perspective, as my late and great buddy Victor Holk once wrote and sang, “takes years if it’s done right,” and Dr. Seuss, like all of the great creative minds who produced a large body of work spanning many years, developed and honed his perspective. It’s not fun to commit such canards in such a public, big way, but, hey all creatives are human, after all.

    Thanks to the Good Lord that it never occurred to me to write a book when I was twenty-something!

  • Interview with Covid survivors (VIDEO)

    covid interviewCALEB FORTENBERRY | PCPC Livingston Volunteer Fire Chief, Corky Cochran and Livingston Junior High Coach, John Taylor speak on their experience of surviving Covid-19 in the exclusive East Texas News interview.



  • It's no bull

    IMG 0408COURTESY PHOTO | PHILIP SCHMITTEN Kayla Garcia prepares coffee for the customers at the Bull Pen Café.

    Restaurant hits the comfort notes

    By Philip Schmitten
    TCNS correspondent

    TRINITY — There's some good eating opening up regularly in Trinity.

    Stop by the newly opened Bull Pen Café at 515 Prospect Drive for great service and excellent food.

    The Bull Pen Café opened for business on the March 16 and is growing daily with new customers for lunch and dinner.

    The favorite seems to be the chicken fried steak and the fish & shrimp platter, according to co-owner, Sharon Snyder.

    “People love our fresh food, especially our fried green tomatoes,” she said. "It's been my sister, Mary Ann Carrica, and my dream for a long time to open a café here in Trinity."

    Snyder said the sisters are Texas natives and love their hometown of Trinity, and it’s especially exciting to help build up the city.

    They offer a party room where they can privately serve events of up to 60 people; Snyder said that as soon as they acquire more employees they will be offering a catering service.

    The restaurant serves its good, old-fashioned, down-home cooking for lunch and dinner.

    IMG 0412COURTESY PHOTO | PHILIP SCHMITTENDana Sexton prepares a salad while James Beavers awaits an incoming lunch order.

  • Keep calm and carry on

    Free Farm VectorFILE PHOTO Free Farm

    There are days when I look at the world and all I see is a yard full of chickens – not cowards, actual chickens. Chickens start squawking and flapping around at the slightest provocation. Chickens always act like it’s the end of the world.

    When I start viewing the universe as a cacophonous barnyard, I take it as a sign that maybe, just maybe, it is time to seek some stability and predictability from a source who is, unlike a chicken, unflappable.

    It was on one of those days that I turned off the television, stepped away from the internet and picked up a magazine from a stack that, considering I was seeing farm animals that weren’t really there, had been ignored for too long.

    The teaser headline on the front of the magazine made me turn to the article right away: “Life Lessons from Queen Elizabeth.”

    Who wouldn’t want advice from Queen Elizabeth II? She is 94 years old and, as of this writing, still going strong. Long live the queen!

    I have always felt a certain kinship with the queen and like to think that we have a lot in common. She has an affinity for tea and for dogs. So do I! She loves horses; I once rode one. She likes things to be neat and tidy. I do, too! In fact, that is one of the top goals for my next life. She wears a royal crown; I enjoy the occasional Crown Royal. She is surrounded by people who wait on her hand and foot; I think I could easily learn to live with that.

    The article offered some generic advice about positive thinking, serving others, establishing a healthy routine… yada, yada, yada. With my vast knowledge of Queen Elizabeth, and with four seasons of Netflix’s “The Crown” under my belt, I had expected nothing else. The queen rarely weighs in, publically at least, on current events. During the nearly 70 years she has been monarch, she has been the picture of cool, calm consistency.

    She still adheres to that “stiff upper lip” and “keep calm and carry on” philosophy for which the Brits were known back in the day and that I used to find irritating. Not anymore.

    As odd as it might sound, when I start seeing chickens where people should be, I can also find solace in TV weather forecasts. Sure, you can go to some dot-com and get the forecast down to the minute, but I want to see a familiar face. Once a meteorologist makes it to the top spot in the weather department, they tend to stay for decades and, just like with my good friend the queen, I start to feel like I know them. They are stable, predictable and unflappable. No matter what may be bearing down on us, you can count on the chief meteorologist to project a calm demeanor and not go all squawky-flappy on us.

    When I was growing up, we had a choice of three local stations for our nightly forecast. My family’s go-to weather guru was a skinny guy with glasses named Bob Lynott. I lie not.

    I lived in Oregon for the first 13 years of my life and Bob was there for every one of them, although I was probably more interested in my belly button than the weather during his earlier broadcasts.

    In those low-tech days, good ol’ Bob would slap his magnetic images of puffy clouds, rain-dripping clouds and the occasional uplifting likeness of Mr. Sunshine onto a map to illustrate what was going to happen in our corner of the world the next day. Since we lived in the Pacific Northwest, the cloud with the dripping rain got quite a workout. He drew the warm and cold fronts on the map with a magic marker.

    I did a quick computer check to make sure I was spelling Bob Lynott’s name right (his last name; I was pretty sure I had nailed his first name) and found his obituary. It reminded me of why he was our weather guy. This is one of the stories it told about Bob: “One time, the day after missing badly on a forecast, he made his entrance to his weather slot by putting his hat on the end of an umbrella and sticking it in front of the camera before he came on.” He did that sort of thing fairly often; he was predictable even when the weather was not.

    Bob may not have always been right, but you could count on him to fess up when he messed up. No matter what, he was unflappable. We knew we would keep tuning in and that Bob would be there to greet us.

    The late author E.L. Doctorow once compared writing a novel to driving a car at night. “You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” He may have been referring to writing, but I think it could be one life’s great lessons. We don’t really need to know what is around the next curve or even our destination; we just need to navigate the road a few feet at a time. It sounds like something my peeps Queen Elizabeth and Bob Lynott might say.

    Keep calm and carry on.

  • Life lessons learned from a tiny, orange kitty

    Tiny Kitten This is Tiny Kitten, and he’s a joy to be around.

    By Chris Edwards

    For those of you who are loyal readers of the scrawlings I spin here on this site (all three of you) there may be a few things you may have learned or will learn about me in our time together.

    For instance, you might become aware of the facts that I like dour old Southern writers, the great old bluesmen, really great Texas barbecue (cooked the tried-n-true old-fashioned way) and a lot of other really old, but really cool, stuff.

    You also might be aware that I really enjoy the fellowship and comfort of our animal friends, especially cats and particularly orange cats.

    A lot of people go on and on about their “soulmates.” Some youngsters have a succession of “soulmates.” Not sure how that works, but I somewhat believe in the concept as a whole, however I don’t think it has to be limited to a fellow human. My soulmate was a shockingly bright (both in fur color and in regard to intelligence) orange cat named Orangey Tangerine Garfina, and the one-year anniversary of her passing is rapidly approaching.

    I’ve known a great many folks in my existence, but nobody “got” me like Orangey did. I’m not sure if she was my sidekick or if I was hers.

    Last summer before she passed on to the great treat-gobbling parlor in the sky, I’m convinced that she, along with the Lord above, sent an unexpected blessing into my life in the form of a tiny orange kitten.

    The kitten showed up at the house before Orangey peacefully passed, but it would take a little while before I was able to put my hands on it. My mother, who is as big of a friend to wayward felines (if not moreso) as me, diligently worked to catch the scared little fella. Before long, we were able to provide some human comfort to him, and a proper name of Ziggy Sunkist Stardust, in honor of the late, great David Bowie. However, it soon became apparent that his nickname of “Tiny Kitten” would likely be a lifelong term of endearment.

    It has been more than a year since I was first able to pet and hold the tiny orange one, and although he’s now “husky,” in the words of his veterinarian, it’s still so much fun to call him Tiny Kitten, so much so that he doesn’t even look whenever I call him Ziggy.

    One thing that those who have known orange cats have discovered, without fail, is that those orangies have enormous personalities. Although Tiny/Ziggy’s sweet orange godmother had enough personality for 10 cats, the little one is no slouch in that department. He’s a lot shyer than she was, and not nearly as vocal, but his playful, sweet ways never fail to make me smile on a daily basis.

    To say this has been a weird year for all of us would be like saying President William Howard Taft was a wee bit chubby or that Shane MacGowan enjoys a drink now and again.

    Uncertainty has wrapped its ugly arms around most of the populace, and although the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as outbreaks of unrest on our soil can be terrifying and upsetting, none of us really knows much about anything, in a universal sense.

    The mighty Nacogdoches metallurgists the Beef Masters put it best in one of their songs, “Blurry,” which contains the lyric “Everything you see and everything you feel might be gone in a moment’s notice.” It’s a sobering and saddening thought, but so true.

    Be that as it may, that little orange feline has made all of the existential angst easier to bear in my world. Not only has

    he been there for me through this year of extreme uncertainty, but he has also seen me through the deaths of a couple of friends. He’s been, to say the least, a joy to be around, and every day, his cheerful demeanor is always a bright spot in my daily existence.

    Tiny Kitten is in no way a replacement for my sweet Orangey girl, but the circumstances of his coming into my life has made me realize there is a lot of truth in that ages-old maxim about good/great things happening when one least expects it.

    There are other lessons I’ve learned from the (now not-so-tiny, but still fun-to-say) Tiny Kitten, and I’m certainly glad I get to be one of his humans.

    In watching little orange man’s day-to-day doings, it’s easy to take away how important grooming and hygiene is, and not just in this age of sanitizing everything due to the virus. Tiny Kitten could spend hours licking himself.

    Also, Tiny Kitten believes in rest. That little feline fellow could sleep 80% of the day away, but he’s still a growing kitten. The body needs rest when tired, so be sure and replenish your sleep after those long days.

    Apart from healthy habits Tiny Kitten demonstrates, he also imparts that it’s important to be yourself. Tiny Kitten has a nifty personality and a unique outlook – and so do you, gentle reader – so don’t be afraid to be yourself.

    Last, but not least, it’s alright to indulge here and there in that snack that probably isn’t the best thing for you, if it brings you joy. Tiny Kitten loves eating his treats (after he bats them around with his little orange paws) and seeing how happy that makes him makes me not feel so bad about late night runs to grab a pint of Blue Bell Cookie Two Step, which I typically eat in one sitting. Note: I limit my ice cream habit to a pint at a time. Eating an entire half-gallon of Blue Bell would just be excessive.

    If Tiny Kitten could talk, he would probably look at me, with that still kitten-y face and those big eyes, and say “Don’t sweat the small stuff, human. In the long run, it’s all small stuff.”

  • Overcoming - recovery gave me back my son

    Overcoming 2021COURTESY PHOTO Kyle and his mother, Nancy.

    By Nancy Carr

    Becoming a mother was one of the greatest joys I had ever experienced. Kyle was a vibrant, exuberant child with a larger-than-life personality from the day he was born. Our family was truly blessed. He was always the center of attention and became friends instantly with anyone he met. He had this thirst for life, until he was about 12 years old. That’s when things started to change and fracture our family unit until Kyle entered recovery in 2013.

    Kyle was always precocious and outgoing, it was his defining character trait. So, when he started to isolate in middle school, I became extremely concerned. He began asking why he was “different” and why he didn’t fit in. As a parent, all I wanted to do was provide the best possible life for my child, so I looked into different therapists and psychologists to help him through this period. I thought, “he’ll grow out of it – he’s so personable and has such a bright future.”

    Little did I know that would be the beginning of a decade-long battle against addiction. Kyle began showing signs of depression and anxiety. He asked to see doctors, who put him on prescriptions. Kyle began abusing those medications, and soon graduated from pills to heroin. His father and I would have never guessed our child was shooting up heroin at just 15 years old.

    The next eight years would be filled with ups and downs. Kyle’s father and I were in complete denial of his addiction – we thought he would rebound every time he said “I’m done.” We sent him to multiple psychologists, therapists, treatment centers, and facilities. We were able to find centers in-network but we traded quality of care for cost. Finding a treatment center that treated all three aspects of addiction seemed nearly impossible. We saw him deteriorate in front of our eyes, attempt getting sober, then fall off again and again. Kyle would hide from the world feeling overwhelming shame and guilt, but continue using. He was a slave to the drugs.

    In 2013, something finally happened. After a string of failed career moves, arrests, overdoses, and increasing medical problems, Kyle finally told us he couldn’t keep doing this. We sought out a treatment center that worked on mind, body, and spirit. As parents, all Kyle’s father and I wanted for him was to be happy and productive. We listened to addiction professionals who had overcome the same debilitating disease of addiction.

    Our family experienced, what I like to call, “a collective enlightenment” as a result of Kyle’s recovery. Through intensive work, Kyle finally became open and honest enough to share with our family that he was gay. He had sat in fear for so many years, thinking we would turn our backs on him. He began coming out of his shell again and engaging in life for the first time in years. I saw the vibrant, social Kyle again. Our entire family started addressing issues we had glazed over for years. We became a true family unit.

    Recovery has completely changed our lives. As a family, we’ve begun to have direct and open communication with one another. Kyle and his brother are best friends again. Kyle’s father and I have never had a better marriage. Kyle’s able to show up for us and participate in his own life again. But what’s most miraculous is how those dark days are now the foundation of the strong family bond we’ve built.

    Almost four years later, our lives are completely different. It was through practicing honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness, that Kyle found himself. He’s since identified that “different” feeling he experienced was due to his addiction and fear of coming out of the closet. Today, he’s a proud gay man and is a respected member of his community. He’s engaged to a wonderful man and living the life he’s always wanted. There is no greater gift than watching your child live life to the fullest, and that’s exactly what’s happened since Kyle got sober.

    There’s no “right” way to prepare for a loved one’s addiction. This disease blindsides you, it hits you when you least expect it. Our family was able to overcome this disease by listening to our child, providing support any way we could, being cautious not to enable his addiction, and helping to find a recovery solution when Kyle became ready. My hope is that every parent who struggles with their child’s addiction is able to find the freedom we have, and to let them know that it gets better.

  • Save our Stages, yes; trash brisket, NO

    John Cornyn brisket screen grabSen. John Cornyn’s tweet that’ll live in Texan infamy.

    By Chris Edwards

    I was going to open this with some variation of the old adage about a broken clock, but, nah, it’s a new year and new beginnings and whatnot.

    Reelected Senator John Cornyn’s piece of legislation from last year, the Save Our Stages Act, is already helping many live music and entertainment venues across the country.It’s especially noteworthy in Texas where live music is a giant part of our history, lifestyle and economy and many historic venues and the artists/bands who play them were hit especially hard from the pandemic.

    It’s definitely worthy of a big kudos to Cornyn, who co-wrote the bill with fellow senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) The bill gathered an armada of co-sponsors before its passage and is a good example of bipartisan collaboration in this ridiculously divided time.

    But there is another recent development with Cornyn that must be addressed and is certainly not representative of this great state. You see, folks, the senator posted a photograph to social media on Christmas Eve that might just rank among the most un-Texan of things that many people will ever see.
    It was heinous and it was disgusting. The photo featured a Pyrex casserole dish full of what looked like either raw pork ribs covered in ketchup, or maybe meatloaf under a blanket of something red.

    The accompanying text proclaimed it to be a “brisket family tradition.” The next day, he tweeted that the brisket was the best that he’d ever had and cited his wife for the recipe, which, get this: has a cook time of three hours in the OVEN.

    Now before you jump to conclusions and start in with assumptions like “that mean old Chris Edwards is just a barbecue snob,” one thing Cornyn did not do is use the sacred and holy name of Barbecue in vain.

    I know, also, that there are more ways to cook a brisket than bathing it for hours and hours in post oak smoke in an offset smoker, but here’s the rub: John Cornyn is a representative of Texas, which is not just the greatest state in the union but has the greatest barbecue in the world and smoking long and slow with woodsmoke is the only way to cook brisket around here.

    The art of barbecue was perfected in the Lone Star State. Credit it to the influx of German, Czechs and Hispanics, all of whom contributed to the greatest culinary artform the world has ever seen and will ever know. Texans do barbecue the right way (like everything else we set out to do) and Texas barbecue will set anyone’s life on the correct path. The crème de la crème of this artform is smoked brisket.

    No less an authority than the great Guy Clark, who was a true representative of this great state, made mention of barbecue first in his classic song “Texas Cookin’,” which celebrates all of the great delicacies one can find between the Red and Rio Grande.

    Nevertheless, Cornyn was just elected to a fourth term to represent Texas in Congress’s upper chamber, and his Lone Star bona-fides are such: he was born in Houston and grew up in San Antonio. The emphasis, with regard to brisket knowledge, should be placed on that latter aspect. As part of the central Texas region, San Antone is home to some of the world’s greatest brisket, and unless he grew up under a rock, there’s no way he couldn’t have tasted great brisket.

    So, here’s an offer to Sen. Cornyn: I will gladly give you a demonstration on how to prepare and cook a brisket the proper and true Texas way if you will offer your much-needed support to another important cause: Rep. Brian Babin’s H.R. 759, which would help our neighbors, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe and, ultimately, the regional economy here in East Texas.

    If Dr. Babin’s bill gets through the Senate (it already gathered a huge swell of bipartisan support in the other chamber and passed) it would put the AC tribe on equal footing with other tribes across this great land.

    Save our Stages is a great thing to help out entertainment venues all over the country, so why not help out with a big entertainment option here in Texas? I get that gambling isn’t everyone’s bag, but everything is a gamble when it comes down to it, right?

  • Stronger than ever

    EastTexan Winter 2 2021

    By Debbie Robins
    Jeremiah 29:11. For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

    Because of Him, we are stronger than ever. Stronger than ever? That was the last sentence I typed when I originally wrote the article about the April 22, 2020 tornado that destroyed our home of 20 years. For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not harm? How could that be true after a devastating storm touched down and took 3 lives? Took homes away from families. Their belongings strewn into a careless wind tunnel, with no discrimination of age. No care for the people that would become homeless. No mercy for those who were already having their own struggles just trying to get through life.

    The struggles have been real. It has been more than 5 months since the tornado touched down. In short, the house is in the process of being re-built. We have been very blessed to have several amazing builders and contractors build this Ark. If we learned anything from this ordeal, it is to truly love your neighbors as yourself, and to trust in the Lord. This is where we obtained our strength. And this is where it all began….

    Living in a hotel for 2 months while trying to decide if we should rebuild or move on, was a difficult decision, to put it mildly. We spent most of our days collecting receipts, itemizing items for insurance, and doing laundry. I learned that if I bought totes, it was easier to organize our belongings while in the hotel. I had totes of food, toiletries, shoes, tools, insurance receipts, blankets, pillows. Everything we could salvage that we may need at the hotel. Except Kip didn’t have socks. So, he went and bought socks. Who would think something so little, such as owning a pair of socks would be important enough to write about? The little things really did matter. Friends and coworkers gave us totes of snacks for the kids, and we received gift cards to restaurants and Lowes. It was amazing and so very helpful. Hotel living with a family of 5, plus 2 dogs, and no real space to spread out, was starting to get to all of us. We had stopped living. All that we knew at that moment was stress and an unknown future. Kip surprised me one night and took me to a dinner in Galveston; hoping to bring back some of the happy times we have always known together. We ordered dinner from the waiter, and there we were, just sitting at dinner like we used to do. I looked up at him, watching as he stirred his tea. I remember we always loved to make tea at home. I started thinking about that word: Home. We didn’t have one anymore. Tears started swelling up in my eyes, and I looked away quickly, hoping he wouldn’t notice. I tried to ignore the huge lump in my throat as I struggled to fight back the tears, that appeared from nowhere. I couldn’t stop them. Tears rolled down my cheeks, and he saw. He grabbed both of my hands from across the table and held them firmly. He asked, “What’s wrong?” I sobbed, “I just want to go HOME!” The next thing I knew, we were holding hands across from each other with our arms on the table, and we both had tears running down our faces. At that very moment, our Pastor, Brother Randy Piatt called. We hadn’t spoken to Randy in months, but we had been messaging each other through all of this. How in the world did he know to call right this moment? Kip answered, and they prayed together, and after they hung up, Kip shared the conversation with me. We both felt a lot better, as this was just the little nudge of encouragement we needed at that very moment. This enabled us to look at the bright side of things, and we would see the sunshine through the clouds.

    EastTexan Winter2021

    Our day got a little brighter a few weeks later, when our daughter Jordan and our amazing son-in law (who we call our son), flew in from Honolulu, Hawaii to surprise us after the tornado destroyed the family home. Jordan is a sergeant in the Army, and Grant already served his Army time, after re-enlisting. During Covid-19, the military was extremely strict on allowing travel for their enlisted, so we knew Jordan and Grant wouldn’t be able to fly down after the tornado. But somehow, they got special permission, and showed up on the front lawn. I was inside cleaning up debris, while talking on the phone. I looked outside to see two people walking up. This was common, as people were always walking up to say, "Hi," or to pass out food or toiletries to tornado victims. I didn’t even recognize them, nor would I have ever fathomed they would be able to fly to Texas. It was them. Jordan and Grant were walking across our front yard. I kept looking at them, thinking surely I’m mistaken. I dropped my phone call and gave them a big hug. This was the happiest we had been in a while. To have our kids home during this tragedy was such a needed blessing. Our other kids couldn’t come down, and it would be far too emotional for them, not to mention they had work and weren’t able to leave. But we were extremely blessed to have Jordan and Grant home. We all stayed back at the hotel the week they were here, enjoying each other’s company. We made many trips to the house, and they helped us pack up and dishes and food that was salvageable in the cabinets. It was hard when it was time for them to leave, but I was happy for the time we got with them.

    After the kids left to go back home, we made trips to the house almost daily, to haul off storm debris, knock out walls, haul huge, heavy piles of wood, glass, and sheetrock to the curb, hoping the city would pick it up as promised. Many hours of difficult, manual labor were put into this, and working in 100 degree temperatures was extremely difficult and exhausting. We faced many challenges.

    It seemed that every time we went to the house, it was raining. Not just a sprinkle, but rain. It was almost like something was telling us to go away. Don’t rebuild here. It’s not worth it. The house is a complete wreck. It’s a wet, demolished, soggy mess. You could smell the rotting sheetrock, and the mold growing on the wood. Flies were out of control, chasing us around, dodging a swat. We bought a “fly salt gun” just to have some fun shooting at the flies. It looked like a toy rifle, but you load it with salt, aim it at the flies, and pow. It was oddly satisfying.

    We tried buying bug spray and fly bait at stores, but they were all sold out. Every time we went inside the house, it seemed to get worse and worse with the smells of the soaked wood, house debris, wet sheetrock, and the flies. As it rained, water poured from our ceiling above us, and soaked our heads and clothes. There were puddles of dirty water on the tile. When we went upstairs, all that existed was a staircase to nowhere. There were a few leaning walls, that were somehow still standing, and the sky. That’s it. (We always liked the open concept look, but this wasn’t exactly what we had in mind.) It was very disheartening to stand upstairs with no roof, no ceiling. You just felt vulnerable. We asked ourselves countless times, “What are we doing?” Why are we even pondering the thought of rebuilding this mess. It’s awful. Maybe we are just confused, or stressed out, and don’t know where else to go or what to do. God, we need a sign. Please, just give us a sign so that we know what you want us to do. Silence. The only sign we received was more rain. Soaking wet, exhausted, confused, stressed out, and basically homeless, we decided to head back to the hotel. I loaded Mikie and the wet dogs up in the car, while Kip was still inside rummaging through the house.

    I caught a glimpse of him standing upstairs, or what used to be upstairs, in the old “Beach Room.” (I had themed bedrooms). He was just standing there, upstairs, exposed under the open sky, while it rained on him. He was looking helpless and overwhelmed with confusion and doubt. I saw him look around, walk a few steps, stop, and just stare again. I felt awful for him. He’s the man of the house; the one with all the answers or solutions. But this time,
    he lacked both. He then disappeared out of sight, as I waited in the car; rain tapping on the roof. I just kept looking at that house thinking, “There’s just no way, this house is a huge mess.” I must have said those words a million times. A few moments later, he got in the car and just sat in silence, drenched. We just sat there without talking for what seemed like an eternity.

    Then, out of nowhere, he pulls out a photograph that he was holding. It was a photo of a double rainbow, that we had taken over 10 years ago.

    The double rainbow in the photograph was shining brightly across the lake, right in front of our home. It was not often that we would see a double rainbow, so we felt very lucky to have captured it with our camera. This was back in the day where we would develop all our photographs.

    EastTexan Winter 3 2021

    The picture was wet and faded. I just looked at him with a confused expression on my face. Typical these days. Kip explained that as he was walking around the house upstairs, he went to the laundry room. He told me he was talking to God, asking what to do with the house. He said he looked down at the floor, and he spotted something poking out from underneath the washing machine. He reached down to pick it up, and discovered it was the picture of the double rainbow. When he first showed me the photo, I was not sure why this photo was so significant to Kip. He then flipped it over and I noticed there was writing on the back
    of it. We had never seen that anyone had written on the back of" "this photograph before this day. There was no doubt, this was Victoria’s handwriting. The writing was more than just words written on the back of a photograph, scribbled by a 10-year-old child; these words would mean something significant to our entire family all these years later. Victoria, our 24-year-old daughter, had written on the back of this photo when she was about 10 years old. In cursive writing, it said, “A Piece of Home.” Oh my gosh. That was our sign. This is the sign from God we had been waiting for. An answer to our prayers. This rainbow signifies God’s Promise. Here we were, sitting in the car holding
    a wet photo, looking at a demolished house that was getting more soaked by the rain, and we just received our answer. God’s Promise. While sitting in the car in the driveway that rainy day,

    Kip and I looked at each other as tears swelled up in our eyes. We really didn’t have much to say. We sat in silence in the car, rain still coming down. We both knew what this meant. We took one last look at our house that was in shambles as we backed out of the driveway. We stopped one last time, looked at the house, and he exclaimed, “You see Debbie, this is God’s Promise. We are coming home, and we will rebuild.”
    We left that afternoon feeling content, feeling this was the right decision.

    After that day, we had more ambition, more confidence, more strength. We were stronger than ever. Kip worked for many days drawing out his own blueprints for the house. He isn’t an architect, or a builder. But he drew it exactly as we wanted it, and today, it is built exactly as it was drawn by him. I’m not sure how he was able to draw out a blueprint, demolish his home, rebuild his home, and work a full-time job. It was catching up to him though. The stress became too much, as the demands of his job and the builders were colliding in a force too strong for him to conquer. He decided to leave his job, as he had a home to build. So, I started calling him “Noah,” after Noah’s Ark. God had given him the ability and knowledge to draw up floor plans and manage a rebuild. It has gone rather smoothly, considering the size of this new “Ark,” and the amount of damage done from the tornado. Our daughter Victoria who wrote those words on the rainbow photograph, is also an artist, who lives in California with her amazing husband, (who we also call our son). She painted us a large painting of an Octopus for one of our themed rooms in the house, a few years ago. This painting was lovingly named, “Paths,” for all the paths that we take along the way in life. We treasured this painting, as it was from Victoria, and meant so many different things to everyone. We had Paths hanging in the media room, which was blown away by the tornado. Paths was found later, but he was mangled, wet, and damaged beyond repair. Since we lost that beloved painting, we asked Victoria to paint us another Paths. She obliged but she decided the new painting would be a little different. We now have “Octavia.” Octavia means strength, and eight. We are not sure what the “eight” will mean for us, but the word “strength” has a lot more meaning to us these days. Octavia is a beautiful Octopus painting in brighter colors, and her canvas is larger than Path’s canvas was. We are eagerly awaiting to adorn our walls with Octavia in our new home.

    The word “home” sounds very exciting to us, but this build would not be possible without the amazing workmanship of a dear friend, Jerry Foote. He was there for us several years ago when we were remodeling the house. He hung new sheetrock, paint, and all of the trim work inside. After the tornado, he called to check on us, and asked if there were anything he could do to help us. He is an expert at his job. He is now working on our house as if it were his own. He is very respectful, knowledgeable, and highly skilled. He has been there since the beginning, designing, and installing all the plumbing, he has built a retaining wall, hung doors, cut out concrete; the list goes on, and continues. He has been there every day as a consultant for us, as well as for the other contractors we have on site. He is working hard alongside them and making sure all goes perfectly. We honestly feel we could not rebuild this house without him. We look up to Jerry and will forever be grateful to him for helping to get our home back. He has sacrificed his days to work out in the dangerously hot Texas heat, in the middle of August. Walls have gone up, roof is now on, plumbing and electrical has been installed. Kip installed all of the electrical, as he loves electrical work. We started our search for a framer, to get the house framed in, but we ended up finding a builder and a friend: JC, with JC Construction. With his knowledge and contacts, we have been able to do a lot more than just frame the house. His expertise has given us a stronger home than we could have ever hoped for. His crew constructed our home from a single graph paper that was drawn and re-designed by Kip multiple times. But because of our newfound relationship, the house turned out better than if we had given him and his crew an engineered blueprint. There were many questions that came up during construction, and JC offered suggestions and guidance; never steering us in the wrong way. Without Kip, Jerry, and JC working together, it would not be possible to have our “Ark” as it stands today. We now have a roof, and I’m so grateful. We still have a long way to go.

    EastTexan Winter 4 2021

    This brings me to the HVAC system. The week after the tornado hit, and everyone was still scrambling for hope and sanity, Kip happened upon Roger, and didn’t even realize who it was until they started talking. Roger was at the front of our subdivision, with his wife Tammy. They were both grilling hamburgers and hotdogs on their barbeque pits, to feed all of the tornado victims. Roger and Tammy were the couple who came to rescue injured victims by their boat. They are the couple that were out boating the day the tornado hit and came by our peninsula to see if we needed any help immediately after it touched down. Since they were in a boat, they could boat people out to ambulances. They loaded up Taylor, Oma, and the young boy that was injured, and took us all to the Kickapoo Marina to wait on ambulances in the rain, while driving through a debris- filled lake. They let us put doors we used as gurneys on their new boat seats, not caring if we damaged them or their new pontoon boat. Not caring about their own safety, but the safety of those injured. After the tornado, they continued with their heroic actions. They spent countless hours that led into months, cooking hamburgers and other food from their bar-b-que pits and delivering them to the tornado victims. They spent their own money to feed those in need long after the tornado. When Kip first saw Roger grilling the food, he wasn’t sure who he was, until they started talking. Kip realized it was the guy and lady that rescued the victims that were thrown from their homes. Kip asked Roger, “Why did you do what you did that night?” Roger humbly stated, “It was just the right thing to do.” Kip later found out that Roger installed HVAC systems, and he never had any doubt that Roger would be our guy to do the job. When we finally had the house ready to install the system 5 months later, we called on Roger, and he came to the house to do a walk-through. When Roger and I saw each other, we just hugged for a long time, eyes swellingwith tears once again. We didn’t have to say a word; we knew.

    Tammy had canned some fresh jars of Cowgirl Candy, several amazing varieties of jellies, and divinity for Roger to give us. I treasured this and didn’t even want to open the jars, as they were such a precious offering. Tammy has her own story of the events of that awful evening, and I hope one day, she shares it. Oma keeps in touch with us. She texts us often and seems happy under the circumstances. She is with her son, as she decided not to rebuild on her property next door to us. She is still recovering but she is having a difficult time physically. In the process of all of this, Oma wanted us to take ownership of her lot. Kip has spent over 20 years taking care of this yard, even before she lived there. But now to purchase it, knowing there won’t be another Oma next door, is very bittersweet. So much of “her” is still on that lot. I remember her always being on her front porch. Her front porch isn’t there anymore. I remember bringing dinner to her front door. Her door is gone. Her house is gone. It is lonely without her here. I remember all of the pies she would bring us, now we only have the memories to cherish since she lives far away from us now.

    EastTexan Winter 5 2021

    Kip and Kalyn have since pursued their own dreams and started a new chapter. Kalyn is attending college, aspiring to become a NICU RN, like I did when I first became a nurse. She is currently living in her college dorm. She comes to visit us on weekends when she is able. Kip has been an avid fisherman since the age of 3. He has been a deck hand in the U. S. Virgin Islands in the past and is currently a deck hand for a charter company in Galveston. He just received his Captain’s license and aims to open his own charter business in the near future. We are proud of their resilience despite the adversities they have endured.

    Adversity is a word we know all too well. I learned on Facebook that it was Taylor’s birthday on August 28. That morning, I walked to the end of the peninsula and stood looking at the exact location we had found him on April 22. I relived the moment of seeing him on the wet ground, moaning. I relived the moment where we all stood around him as his own brother, and other men loaded him onto a door that was detached from a home, and carried him onto the boat; using the door as a gurney. I relived being by his side when he took his last breath, with tears rolling down my face as I watched helplessly, with no tools to help him and no ambulance in sight. Our only hope was to perform CPR on him, until Paramedics arrived. I talked to Taylor, as I stood looking over the lake towards what used to be his home, and I told him I was so sorry that I couldn’t save him. I told him I think about him and Brooke every day, and that we will always remember them. I told him I know he’s singing his karaoke up there with Jesus and the Angels, and that from this moment on, I will be happy that he is with Brooke in Heaven, and I will not be sad, but that’s easier said than done.
    Thankfully, the young boy, who I later found out is Taylor’s nephew, is finally home from the hospital after recovering from the broken bones and surgeries that he endured after being thrown from his house with his mom, Taylor, and Brooke. I won’t be sad any longer, as I know Taylor and Brooke are home together forever. There is a time and a season for everything. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3.

    These times of missing Oma, losing Brooke and Taylor, and remembering him on his birthday, are sad reminders of how quickly lives can change, and how the most important thing at that moment, is talking to the person right in front of you, right then. That moment might not be there again. That moment will soon be a memory. Now is the time to count our blessings, love more, and rebuild our lives. It’s time to be home.

    Cutline for art photo: Daughter Victoria Robins replaces the destroyed artwork she had painted years ago with a new painting titled 'Octavia.'

    Original story found in the East Texan 2021 Winter edition.


    M. Spoor Head Shot WorkCOURTESY PHOTO M. Spoor Head Shot

    Early in my career, I was contacted by a friend from my high school days named Anthony Zuiker. Anthony had heard I was employed by the local police and was assigned to the crime scene investigations section.

    Anthony, a high-energy guy with lofty dreams, was just beginning his writing career and working for famed producer Jerry Bruckheimer. Anthony’s wife got him interested in a forensics-based television show, The New Detectives, featured on the Discovery channel. With this inspiration, Anthony eagerly created his first television pilot script, which became the start of the CSI television drama franchise.

    So here I am, working a job few people at the time wanted to delve into because of its mundane and tedious nature, not to mention being so freely exposed to death. Anthony calls me up one evening and says, “Hey man, I respect what you do and I would like to ride along with you to see how the whole forensics thing works.”

    Thus, the CSI revolution was born. I tried to talk him out of creating a series based on crime scene investigations because of the nature of the work, but he wasn’t hearing me. Anthony rode along with me for a week, where he was exposed to the unpredictable and rousing Vegas night life. Las Vegas is an exciting city, there is always a plethora of crime and Anthony’s time with me was fruitful to say the least. Anthony has the gift of gab, so of course he developed friendships with several of my coworkers, which would later become the basis for his characters.

    A couple of months later, I get another call from Anthony asking me to meet him at a well-known Vegas watering hole for some food and football. Unbeknownst to me, it was a rouse to get me to help him finish his pilot script for CSI (Vegas). Several beers and a lot of chicken wings later, a script born. This was my indoctrination into the world of entertainment versus reality.

    The interesting part of the CSI (Vegas) franchise was all the initial characters were based on actual investigators that worked with me. Nick Stokes, played by actor George Eads, was based on myself. Gil Grissom, played by actor William Petersen, was based on Daniel Holstein Ph.D. and Catherine Willows, played by actress Marg Helgenberger, was based on Yolanda McClary, just to name a few. The rest of the story is history. Anthony was able to pitch and sell the pilot to CBS spawning multiple future spinoffs.

    For every upside, there is an equal and opposite downside. The CSI series were wildly popular and spawned a new interest in the forensic sciences. Universities and colleges offered new courses of study targeting the different disciplines and a whole new generation of scientists and investigators were born. What was once a silent job in law enforcement saw an explosion of interest and more candidates than ever were testing for limited opportunities. This exploding interest meant police departments could choose the best of the best to fill their vacancies. New training opportunities and organizations formed to help push the science into future rather than merely respond to it.

    The downsides created by such a drama series affected the expectations of the viewers. We in the forensic business like to affectionately refer to this as “The CSI Effect.” There is a difference between entertainment and reality, and forensic scientists/investigators were challenged to explain the differences when testifying in court. Jurors now had unrealistic examples of timeframes, procedures, equipment and job duties. Additional time had to be spent educating jurors on the realistic aspects and limitations of the science.

    Scripts are entertainment and without entertainment they never see the light of day. It is hard to translate forensics into a script without adding that entertainment factor which ultimately diverges away from the real expectations of forensic science. I had a fortunate opportunity to play a small part in something special and help a friend achieve great success, but I spent the rest of my career explaining the difference between reality and entertainment in court.