Archives for June 2013

Texas Squall



And I think there is comfort in a storm that breaks.


Sorrows cloud up and cloud up and you just sit there and hope they at least bring some rain

dang it

‘cause so far it’s all just rumbling and a few flashes. And finally, it does rain.


Lightning zaps power lines. The next morning there are tree limbs in the streets.

But you were right after all.

Your sorrow was worth that much.


Come, everyone. Come look at the damage.

While on Vacation

Current temp: 76 degrees

P.S. So, uh, this other thing happened while we were on vacation. I wrote it up.


Day 3. We were having a great time here at South Padre. Yesterday, I ran on the beach in the rain. The girls played Marco Polo and Sharks & Minnows in the pool. That afternoon, I took them shopping, and then John took them shopping some more so I could interview my wedding couple for the magazine. Then we went out to eat so I could finally have shrimp and a beer, and we saw the most gorgeous sunset. I haven’t seen any sunsets in I don’t know how long. About 8:45 p.m., we got back to the condo, and John told the girls they could walk on the beach until 9:30, even though we’d originally set their curfew at 9 p.m.

I brushed my teeth and put on my pajamas.

And then, we heard screams. I don’t know how to convey the sound in text. It was almost like, “Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack!” It was odd. It didn’t sound dangerous. I went into my default mode for things I don’t understand—It must be drunks—and sat right where I was, in bed.

That’s when John left the bedroom and headed for the door.

“Did something happen?” I called after him.

“I think something very bad happened,” he said, and the door shut.

That’s when I remembered the girls were out walking on the beach. I looked at my phone: 9:22 p.m. I couldn’t go to bed until I knew the girls were safe.

First I went on the balcony, just to see if I could see them, but it was dark. I looked down at our pool area, which is well lit, but it was empty.

I walked outside and saw all these police cars lined up in front of our condo. There were guests like me, looking out over the stairs. John was nowhere in sight, so I assumed he was getting the girls. I sat in one of the chairs that overlooked the bay side. I was wearing my pajamas, but I didn’t care and no one else cared because they were watching the police.

In just a couple of minutes, my daughter tapped me on the left shoulder. (She’d been calling, “Mom!” but of course, she was on my left side, so I didn’t hear.) She and her friend walked up together.

“Oh, thank God,” I said. I texted John, “They’re back.” Just in case they had come back on their own and he didn’t know and was still looking for them.

Before I could even ask, our daughter seemed to know what happened: “Some guy shot himself.”

“Here?” I said. It was a Monday night, not a weekend night. It was 9:30 p.m., not 3 in the morning.

Both the girls started to talk at once—what they knew, what they’d heard, how a person can easily survive a bullet wound to the head because they don’t feel any pain but they might be, you know, kind of messed up a little after this.

A cop came by, a young guy.

“What happened?” our daughter asked him.

“A guy shot himself is all, but he’ll be OK,” he said. He looked like he was saying that just to calm us down. The girls took his statement as gospel truth since he was a cop, but I took it as a nice thing to say so we wouldn’t worry and would please just go back inside and let him do his job.

I guess about this time John walked up, but I really don’t remember when he got there, other than that it was after the girls.

The fire truck drove up, and John told the girls he wanted them to go inside so they wouldn’t see the guy being pulled from his truck. It looked like every cop in town was parked outside our little condo building. I suddenly realized that South Padre is just a small town that gets a lot of tourists—kind of like Fredericksburg, only more so. We always joke that at a time like this, when all the cops are in one place, it’s the perfect time to commit a crime. It was early on a Monday night. There was probably nothing else happening on the island.

When we got inside, I asked John what happened with getting the girls. He said they’d already come up to the pool area, and he told them a guy had been shot and to walk around and come up the other side of the building. My text to him finally came in while he was telling me this.

The girls were … fine. They’re 14, so they were kind of excited. Besides, they knew they were safe. It wasn’t personal. Some guy just shot himself is all.

“We’ve seen so much on TV that nothing really bothers us,” our daughter said.

Her friend kind of laughed. At dinner, she’d told us the long, convoluted story of her family. She was very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. She’s pretty careful about what she eats and doesn’t approve of drinking and says she’ll never wear booty shorts.

“When bad things happen, I get very calm. I just get completely calm. It’s weird,” our daughter told her friend.

I told the girls goodnight, but after I’d only been in bed a few minutes, I realized we’d have to tell the friend’s parents. Like, right then. It isn’t the kind of thing we could say when we brought her home: “Hey, some guy shot himself outside our condo, and all the cops on the island came, but everything’s OK. Sorry we forgot to mention it until now.” So, I got up and told her that we needed to tell them, even though I didn’t want to worry them.

It was almost 10 p.m., and she said they’d be in bed, but she could text her dad.

“He just wants to know I’m safe. That’s all he cares about,” she said.

He texted back pretty quickly. “You OK?”

She read me his text. “See?” She texted back, “Safe and sound.”

“Have fun swimming with the sharks,” her dad texted back.

I don’t know where to put this story into the story of this vacation. Because it really has been wonderful. It reminds me of coming here every summer when I was growing up. It’s a nice condo. Our neighbors told us about it. The people are friendly, and it’s all parents and kids or grandparents and grandkids. No drunks. No trash on the beach. It’s been quiet at night. Peaceful during the day.

Some guy shot himself is all.


Why I Love Mondays

(This poem intentionally uses lines from William Stafford’s poem, “The Way It Is,” which was partially inspired by William Blake’s poem, “Milton,” from the section called “Jerusalem.” Got that?) 



You don’t ever let go of the thread.

You hold on to it all the long, wicked weekend

knowing that come Monday

around 8:30 in the morning

you will be home and they will be gone


All week you wind that golden string

hour by hour and day by day you wind it into a ball

as you write and do what leads you in at heaven’s gate.


Each Friday as the sun goes down you hold

that ball. While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Slowly you unwind it as time unfolds

and things change. You let it become a thread

winding its way through Saturday and into the Lord’s

day. People wonder about what you are pursuing.


You are chasing Monday.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

The High Calling of Work (as seen at church)

HI 62 / LO 50, wind west-northwest at 6mph

Our church bulletin includes advertisements from members. Some of you who just read that sentence will be appalled; others will think, “Yeah, so?”

It is a Sunday as I write this. I just got home from church and made myself a pot of silver needles jasmine tea. I opened the bulletin and for the first time really read the ads.

Here’s a small sample of the kind of work done by people at our church:

* dentist

* credit union

* glasses store

* optometrist (x2)

* bank

* kid chefs

* tourist attraction/wildflower farm

* hospice

* body shop

* medical clinic

* heating & air conditioning (x3—There’s competition in that market!)

* motel

* investment firm

* butcher

* landscaper

* restaurant (x3—Did I mention this is a tourist town?)

* local charity

* liquor store

* plumbing (x2)

* high-speed internet

* urology

* dermatology

* carpets/wallpaper/window treatments/flooring/paint store

* sports medicine & orthopaedics

* construction

More than likely, your church has some members in these professions as well. There are other members at our church who have the kinds of jobs that don’t advertise—nurses, office managers, teachers, maintenance workers, ranchers and farmers. Oh, and all the retired folks. And me, writer and editor. All of us worshipping together and then going back to work.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

HI 64 / LO 43, sunrise 5:45 a.m.


Hey, Dad.

Guess what? I wrote about you over at The High Calling this week. It’s called “Monday Nights With Dad.”

love you!


P.S. I bought your card Saturday night at 5:55 p.m. It goes in the mail on Monday. Oops.

Ida Mae Gladney

HI 56 / LO 36, Feels like 36


I don’t usually do book reviews, but I can’t resist after reading Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.” (Thanks for the recommendation, Dad and Kevin Tankerlsey!) It’s a remarkable book.

First, for the writing (Wilkerson won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing at The New York Times). All writers know the best way to grab the attention of the reader is to tell a story. That’s as true in writing history as in reporting on a tornado. Wilkerson tells the story of the Great Migration of blacks from the South to the North by telling the stories of three people—Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Pershing Foster. Ida Mae was from Mississippi, George was from Florida, and Robert was from Louisiana. Ida Mae left in the ‘30s, George in the ‘40s, and Robert in the ‘50s. Ida Mae went to Chicago, George went to Harlem, and Robert went to Los Angeles. Ida Mae stayed working class, George became middle class, and Robert became wealthy. What Wilkerson does is absolutely masterful. All I could do was marvel at her craft.

Writing aside. Let’s get personal. I am a white woman, born and raised in Texas. The Lone Star state is big enough to have a lot of variety, but most of the places I’ve lived have had more Mexican-Americans than African-Americans. So, I was reading this book to educate myself.

There are scenes that are difficult, but they’re difficult because I can’t imagine them. There are many, many others that I can imagine because I’ve witnessed similar incidents. The quiet prejudices—those I have seen. Wilkerson also made me reevaluate what I thought I knew about urban poverty, about immigration, and about politics.

It’s obvious that Wilkerson has a special place in her heart for Ida Mae, and I did, too. For one thing, Ida Mae picked cotton, and so did my dad. Wilkerson writes that by choosing Chicago, she exchanged cotton for snow:

“In a symbolic kind of way, snow was to Chicago what cotton was to Mississippi. It blanketed the land. It was inevitable. Both were so much a part of the landscape of either place that where you saw snow you by definition would not see cotton and vice versa. Coming to Chicago was a guarantee that you would not be picking cotton. The people sitting at the dining room table this late winter night had chosen snow over cotton.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

Ida Mae loved her family. She trusted in God, even when her Chicago neighborhood became overrun with drugs and prostitution. On a difficult day of traveling with Wilkerson, she said, “Now, we ain’t got nothing to do with God’s business.”

Here’s how Wilkerson summed up Ida Mae:

“Ida Mae Gladney had the humblest trappings but was the richest of them all. She had lived the hardest life, been given the least education, seen the worst the South could hurl at her people, and did not let it break her. She lived longer in the North than in the South but never forsook her origins, never changed the person she was deep inside, never changed her accent, speaking as thick a Mississippi drawl in her nineties as the day she caught the train out of Okolona sixty-odd years before. She was surrounded by the clipped speech of the North, the crime on the streets, the flight of the white people form her neighborhood, but it was as if she was immune to it all. She took the best of what she saw in the North and the South and interwove them in the way she saw fit. She followed every jump shot of the Chicago Bulls and knew how to make sweet potato pie like the best of them in the Delta. She lived in the moment, surrendered to whatever the day presented, and remained her true, original self. Her success was spiritual, perhaps the hardest of all to achieve. And because of that, she was the happiest and lived the longest of them all.”

Amen to that.  


?Que onda?

HI 62 / LO 42,  morning sunshine


Back in college, I spent a month in Campeche, Mexico, on the Gulf. The standard greeting I heard every day was, ?Que onda? Literally, it means, What wave? What wave has come to you today? or What are the waves bringing you today?

Guess where I’m going? No, not Campeche, but we are headed to the beach on the Texas side of the Gulf of Mexico. I’m going to a place I haven’t been in 24 years, but one I went to very often when I was growing up.

When I come back, I’ll let you know what the waves brought me.

P.S. I’m over at Tweetspeak today, writing about wheat berries. It’s all L.L. Barkat’s fault.

Hail poem



like oak pollen

fuzzy yellow lies

line the branches




hail hits

hail the size of softballs

smashes every north-facing window

drives us deep indoors

grapefruit-sized hail rids what we cannot reach

grabs the truth and hurls it headlong


I’m not angry. A good spring hailstorm knows

when it’s needed.