Sunday, January 29, 2012

What did…? Oh, I see what you’re saying ...

(From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR)

Mr. Huey would get his words all confused sometimes, to the delight of us all. He never knew it.

Instead of “charismatic,” he’d say “ceramic.” As in, “Maybe you ought to go join one of those ceramic congregations.”

Once on the phone my little sister told him she loved him, and he said, “The feeling is neutral.”

Okey doke.

My little sis also has a little dog, a Shih Tzu named Bijou. Mr. Huey came close but never called her by that name; it was always “Gee Gee” or “Ju Ju” or something like that. That dog loved Mr. Huey and I’m sure the feeling was neutral.

Also I don’t think he ever tried to say “Shih Tzu” – I’m sure I would remember! -- and for that, we can all be grateful.

One of his favorite football players was “Bert Favre,” or, as Bert’s mom calls him, “Brett Favre.” Loved him some Bert Favre, Mr. Huey did.

Oh, he was full of verbal fumbles. The Human Malaprop. No one ever corrected him; my little sister would just quietly go to the kitchen drawer, pull out a pencil and scrap paper, and write it down. A moment with Mr. Huey was like being in a panel cartoon.

But there was no mistaking the important things he said. Mr. Huey did what he said – or at least what he meant to say. If he said he loved you, he meant it, and all that came with that.

Mr. Huey was a beautiful human being.

We lost a lot of good people this past year, Mr. Huey among them. I’ve written about several, about these guys who always made me feel as if I mattered.

Mr. Joe Joe Michael was like that. He passed away last month, but not before spreading the love and encouragement for 88 years in his hometown of Homer and wherever else he traveled, which was extensive.

When my dad became pastor of First Baptist Church of Homer in 1977, Mr. Joe Joe, a Catholic at Homer’s St. Margaret’s and a magnificent businessman, was one of the first people from outside the congregation to go see daddy in his office, welcome him to town and offer himself for whatever help he could be. Mr. Joe Joe told my dad that if First Baptist was strong, it helped to make Homer strong, and he wanted my dad to know he’d always have a friend in him.

“No one was ever more of a gentleman to me than Joe Joe Michael,” my dad said.

I wasn’t from Homer. But Mr. Joe Joe always made me feel like I was, like I was “part of,” like I’d grown up as his friend, cruised the Sonic and Homer Square after Friday night football game and fished Claiborne from the diaper days on up. He was smiling every time I saw him.

Mr. Huey worked with his hands building houses, a carpenter extraordinaire. But he and Joe Joe and others like them are even better at building homes, and at building others up, working with their hearts. I didn’t know when I met Mr. Huey a long, long time ago that he’d one day be my little sister’s daddy-in-law, a second father to her.

He loved pocket knives, all sorts of knives. Had bunches. His son, my brother-in-law, gave me one at Christmas after his daddy died in June. I look at it and am reminded of a warm-hearted gentleman who loved truth and life and family.

The feeling will always be neutral.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Bigger They Are, The Smaller They Were

(From today's Times and News-Star)

Nice people who read my stuff ask me often why I don’t write about my son much anymore. Simple: he can read now.

All of us share similar experiences with little ones and enjoy thinking about them -- unless we’re telling them to quit arguing in the back seat or they won’t go take a bath or we’re on the way to the drug store for more pink stuff so they’ll quit coughing.

So back in the salad days I wrote about him all the time. Wrote about cleaning his sticky fist after we played mini-putt and ate an ice cream cone in Myrtle Beach. Wrote about riding the Lost Mine Train at Six Flags 18 straight times until the park closed and he fell asleep being carried to the car. Wrote about going to a Rangers game and it being about 120 degrees hot and him saying he’d stay for the extra innings “if they let me bat.”

We pushed an elevator button in a Texas hotel for the first time and thought we were at Six Flags again. Dressed for Halloween like a Ninja Turtle, a kitty cat and Richard Nixon (not at the same time.) For Christmas, got a plastic Corvette that would go around the block if the batteries were charged, got a city of tiny cars that required a day to assemble, got a Red Ryder BB gun – and some of the Christmas lights around the garage got shot out while I was gone.

I could write about him and his friends and never worry about embarrassing any of them.

But … one day a grammar-type test by a consultant at the newspaper revealed I was writing on an eighth-grade reading level. In other words, you don’t have to be on the mailing list of a university’s admissions office to understand my stuff. The downside: when it came to “chronicling” the adventures of Casey and his friends, I lost free rein back around 2002.

And Casey turned 23 this week. What’s THAT about?

That whole gang is too big for their britches now. Certainly too big for mine. Some of these guys who used to play on my Little League teams are wearing size 46 suits now. 46 LONG. I remember watching Casey and a big-for-his-size boy I called “Mr. David” play in the throw, hit and run competition on a long-ago Saturday at Fair Grounds Field. I saw Mr. David at a Mexican restaurant not too long ago and when he walked up to hug me I thought he was the bar’s bouncer.

Taylor wrote me for advice on a college term paper. Saw Babe catching beads with his girlfriend two years ago at a Mardi Gras parade. Fish is graduating – in engineering. At Cane’s I ran into The Butler, who has a driver’s license and his own money and everything; in my brain, he’s supposed to be 9.

I can think of three guys who’ve been on mission trips to other continents; I used to pray they’d get to the ballgame on time. Lukie and Stephens owe me $5 each because I schooled them in the BowlFest game we played last month. (Yes!) At least two former Little Leaguers are married, one’s in the Navy, and these are the same guys whose biggest concern used to be the length of the line at the concession stand.

I know all you guys CAN read now. If you ever actually DO, read this: thanks, and happy birthday from someone who’ll always be your fan.


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Southern Comfort Food: 'Every Recipe Has A Story'

(Reprinted from today's Times and News-Star)

Remember when the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books took off? You couldn’t swing a cat in a waiting room or an airport lounge or your own den without hitting at least one person reading those things.

And they weren’t even “scratch ’n’ sniff.”

Yet as they are, filled with inspiration and thoughty thoughts, they are still very good books. (I have “Chicken Soup for the Baseball Soul” and, if memory serves, “Chicken Soup for the Person Who Enjoys Dead Chicken’s Soul.”)

Comforting words and comforting food. I like both. Which is a prime reason I like “Southern Living” magazine.

You need “bad” stories in the newspaper. It’s part of the purpose. Information to help you. What part of town do I need to steer clear of or what are the problems so we can make improvements or who died and what’s the deal on my taxes. And on like that.

But Southern Living is almost always a seat in the shade. Good stuff, and from my part of the world.

Plus recipes!

So imagine my surprise when I get the January issue and come to page 102 and see a picture of a lady stirring with a wooden spoon at her stove and smiling. “There’s the winner of the Carolyn Flournoy Look-A-Like Contest,” I thought.

The caption explained why I’d thought that. It WAS Mrs. Carolyn. My Mrs. Carolyn. Our Mrs. Carolyn.

Cooking columnist and food editor for The Times for 30 years, Mrs. Carolyn passed away suddenly in April of 2003, leaving thousands of friends and fans – and recipes – in her cheer-spreading wake. Her raspy voice would fill the newsroom back then, like the scent of cinnamon rolls fills a whole house, and you’d feel better immediately.

“I hear Mrs. Carolyn. Mrs. Carolyn’s here!…”

In this month’s Southern Living highlighting “50 Southern Comfort Foods,” Kate Nicholson, Mrs. Carolyn’s daughter and the magazine’s former food editor, shares a few thoughts about her mom -- and, a few of her mom’s comfort food recipes. (Hello, Ratatouille!)

“Someday, I plan to pay tribute to her in a cookbook of all her best recipes and the stories behind them,” Nicholson writes. “In the meantime, here are a few sentimental (and delicious) favorites. In my mind, all of these qualify as comfort foods. They bring her back to life. And what’s more comforting than that?”

Along with anecdotes and her mom’s cooking savvy, Nicholson shares recipes for Winter Blackberry Cobbler, Ham Salad, Lucky Black-eyed Peas, Roast Chicken and Roquefort Noodles. (Mrs. Carolyn used egg noodles, not fettuccine, in the Roquefort recipe because Kate’s dad hated fighting the long, thin pasta. “I don’t give a darn what they eat in Italy,” he said. “I want something I can get to my mouth without fighting it!”

Beside me as I type are some of Mrs. Carolyn’s most requested recipes from the newspaper way back then: Flournoy Pimento Cheese. A Version of Red Lobster’s Cheese Biscuits. Carrott Souffle From Picadilly (yes!). Flournoy Corn Bread Dressing. It’s an impressive lineup from an impressive lady. And what I wrote in the paper eight years ago is still true.

“Her warmth was genuine, her intellect was without ego. Her goodness she spooned out in equal shares to everyone.

“She brought dishes to the office often. Eating her cooking was good for your stomach.

“But knowing Mrs. Carolyn, that was good for your soul.”


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Storybook Season Ends With Tale By The Tigers

(Reprinted from the Jan. 8, 2012 editions of The Times and The News-Star, before Alabama's 21-0 win over LSU)
Got any plans for tomorrow night?

I hear LSU has a game.

It is with bittersweet emotion that I will tune in for the Allstate BCS National Championship scrap between the LSUs and the Alabamas, a contest that, on the Anticipation Scale, ranks right up there with Christmas morning and the last day of school.

Tuesday, it'll all be over but the arguing, this memorable college football season. Time to take a knee. Hurts me.

Sometimes, too much of a good thing is a good thing.

I am in the minority here but Bowlfest, college footballs month-long postseason proliferation of oddly named ballgames played in stadiums across the land, is one of the great inventions of modern man.

Temple versus Wyoming? I'll watch it. Toledo and Air Force? What channel?
Wisconsin and Oregon? Count me in. I'll even bring the Mountain Dew!

True, somewhere between the Meineke Car Care Bowl (the who?) and the Grand Theft Auto Bowl, I blacked out. Stone cold. The sound of a Progressive Insurance commercial woke me up, assured me that all I had to do was sit up straight and toothpick my eyes open to enjoy watching teenagers I didn't know and would forget by tomorrow play another three hours of football.


I made one bowl in person: Western Athletic Conference outright champ Louisiana Tech and the impressive Texas Christian Horned Frogs, warts and all, in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl, the War and Peace of all bowl game titles. Made a prelim event but missed the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl proper due to sickness: I watched, between coughs, on television. God bless the I-Bowl, born in 1976 and still breathing with so many Bluebonnet and Garden State and Heritage Bowls in its wake.

LSU will play Monday night's biggie and, win or lose, there will be arguments about who is No. 1. This is why I love the bowls and dont mind the lack of
playoffs: the bowls give us more to argue about -- though with playoffs, it would be the exact same thing. Just sayin

(Thoughty side note: If the Tigers DO win, the argument that they are not the champs -- for instance, that Oklahoma State would have whupped them -- will be shallow but still made. But with a defense from outer space and a record of what would be nine wins over nationally ranked teams, the Tigers can boast to sane people of being unquestionably the best team this season, maybe the best team ever. Unless you count the 92 Crimson Tide. Or maybe the 98 Vols. Or the 80 Georgia Herschel Walkers. Or the 88 Gold Domers or one of those great Miami teams. See how wonderful college football can be for the argumentative types? Sometimes, you beat everybody and still, you just can't win.)

There are some things I won't miss though. Some day I want to write about how ESPN changed the world, how players came to mistake TV cameras as spotlights for various Look-At-Me antics in what is the ultimate team game. It's easy to tell the difference between unrestrained joy and an audition. Tacky.

But I won't let that take away from the joy of tonight's title-game prelim, the Bowl. (I like Northern Illinois; they can score the ball!) For two more nights, I get to sit in front of the TV, worthless as a pile of No. 2, just to see who'll be No. 1.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Maestro's Music Plays On This Year

(Reprinted from The Times and News-Star, Jan. 1, 2012)

The house lights are dim today, the sheet music put away. In
tribute, the orchestra pit is lonely, except for some empty chairs
and metal music stands.

The maestro has gone away.

This is the first New Year's Day in the past 95 that John Shenaut,
founding Music Director of the Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, has
not been alive to enjoy the music. To play or to lead or to compose.

He died early December and was entombed a few days later, a
beautiful day, windy and chilly but sky blue. I think he would have
appreciated the service, the oboe and violin, the heartfelt eulogy,
the scripture and song. I know he would have appreciated the words
of his wife of 40 years who touched his casket and said to friends,
"Thank you so much for being here; you know, he was the love of my

John Shenaut inspired some to play, some to compose, some to
appreciate, many to love. He helped give birth to the Wideman Piano
competition. And again, he founded the symphony, conducted its first
performance on his 32nd birthday, Nov. 9, 1948. He made Mozart out
of thin air, a few reeds and strings and believers in the music.

Much of the richness in the cultural life of the area today can be
traced to seeds first sewn by John Shenaut 65 years ago.

He was the maestro.

But to me, he was the kindly and classy older gentleman my son grew
up next door to, the husband of the wife who loved my boy from the
time he was a toddler through the time she watched us loading up to
take his stuff off to college four years ago.

Mr. John was the man who owned the yard I mowed and the azaleas my
cat napped in. He was the man who walked around the block in his
sweater and beret, with his cane, slow and steady and smiling. Mr.
John was the musician who composed for us without his knowing it
when we'd sit on the front porch and hear the piano in his front
room, right by the window, and then his violin.

Our house was football in the front yard and the Grand Old Opry.
His was a baby grand in the den and Carnegie Hall. The Christmas
Mrs. Frances let me hang lights on their house, I felt as if I were
decorating the Met.

I wonder what it must have been like in the 1950s when north
Louisiana was country as fatback and the Hayride was rocking and Mr.
John and others were steadily fanning a fire for orchestral
concerts, opera and ballet, challenging the music inside hundreds of
gifted hands, bringing the love of music to thousands of listening
ears. It took talent but also dedication and a businessman's savvy
to make it work. No question we had the right man on point: in 33
years with the symphony, he never missed a rehearsal or performance.

He taught even when he didn't try. Once during a visit in his den, a
piece of classical music played in the background and suddenly he
said, "Wait!," and he held up his hand. He wanted to hear this one
part. "Listen. Isn't it beautiful?" And his eyes danced and the part
passed and he smiled.

Know when to be still. Don't miss the best parts, said our friend
and neighbor who conducts us still, who left us notes much sweeter,
and the world a bit more in tune.