Dads gave their sons lessons on the proper handshake. The lesson included the rule of never offering your hand to a lady unless she offered hers first. It emphasized the importance of a firm grip, but never a bone crusher. And that one should never, ever linger too long hand in hand.
By the time I was out of college, ladies (actually, they preferred to be called women by that time) offered their hands in greeting without forethought or remorse. It was so commonplace in our social life that we never thought much about its disease transmitting potential.
But then there was coronavirus and COVID-19. The gentleman’s warmest greeting was suddenly a life-threatening gesture. By the time we went into lockdown on March 13, I had already mastered the elbow bump but found only a couple of folks who knew exactly how to respond to my apparent act of aggression. Since then, I have not been around enough people to even think about elbow bumps, handshakes, cheek kisses, or anything else. At most, I offer a weak quasi-military salute. It works for most people.
Perhaps it will be the death of the handshake. Will anyone even remember the custom by the time (or, perhaps, if) we ever come out of lockdown? Will anyone miss it?
Our summer opens to the thrilling possibility that the Trump Show may be cancelled after a four-year run. The Tulsa MAGA-palooza fizzled, and the embarrassed president could only wave his arms and blame everything “democrat” for the half-filled arena and the yawning media response.
As Trump’s poll numbers plummet, I wonder if our senators will begin to behave like independent agents with the responsibility for bearing the needs and wishes of Texans into the legislative arena. As “the base” falters, Republicans slowly, ever so slowly, seem to be growing spines of their very own. It was a sad thing to see educated men like Cornyn and Cruz dragging themselves past capitol reporters, unable to stand erect, able only to shout out a quick, “I haven’t seen his tweet.”
Meanwhile, people of my age who may not be science-educated but who nevertheless have developed an appreciation for the medical profession – including the public health specialty – are staying home and stepping out only when necessary. Grandchildren have been available in Zoom and Facetime meetings. Church has lost some of its power without the warm hugs and handshakes of real Methodists. Even my pharmacy has succeeded in persuading me to have prescriptions mailed. And the HEB Curbside Pickup service has become my regular contribution to our shopping. So even grocery store and drug store outings are becoming things of the past.
But life goes on in Lake Jackson. I still get out for evening walks if it cools enough by seven. There are a good many people walking. I have run into former colleagues from Brazosport College, other volunteers from the Center for the Arts and Sciences, and just pleasant people whom I have not met but share happy greetings with, nonetheless.
Coronavirus entered my consciousness somewhere around March 6. I had heard the term and read a few stories about it, but it didn’t seem like much of a threat at the time. Some people were dying in China and Americans were becoming trapped on pleasure cruises. But people in China have been seen wearing masks during outbreaks of various viruses for years. And pleasure cruises? Why do people even spend their money on them? Major diarrhea outbreaks on Carnival cruises are so common they barely make the six o’clock news any more.
The evening of March 6, I attended a retirement party for a friend at The Wursthaus in LJ. There was, at that time, beginning to be some nervousness about being in crowds, but no one really thought much about picking up a life threatening ailment as a result of hanging out with our friends that night. We were there to toast one of them who had served our Center for the Arts and Sciences for some 35 to 40 years.
You could still have that kind of a party on March 6 without tempting death and we all made it into the month of May without anyone testing positive for COVID-19. (Have any of us been tested? Sorry. That was a needless distraction.)
The next day I got a haircut. Life went on pretty much as usual. Then LJ and the rest of the country started locking down. We learned about curbside grocery shopping from HEB. We learned how to order and pick up at The Local’s curb. Some were even learning how to cook at home. We learned how to wash our hands properly and how excruciatingly difficult it is to keep from touching our faces. And we got constant news of the horror coming out of Washington (the state with a snake for a governor), New York City, California, Spain and Italy. For us Lake Jackson folks, those were faraway places and, while we had concerns about loved ones in those places, we felt fairly safe here.
I know you have been logging on daily hoping to see the report titled “Coronavirus in Lake Jackson.”
In fact, there isn’t anything to report that you haven’t already seen on the national news. Schools are closed. Now we know there is something more important than the STAAR tests. No hand sanitizer. No church services on Sunday. A town without toilet paper!!
His son now serves in the U.S. Senate. Rand’s latest senate adventure was to hold up consideration of the first House coronavirus relief bill to talk about the war in Afghanistan. If you go to his dad’s web site and listen to the coverage he delivers from over on Plantation Drive, it should help your understanding of Dr. Paul, the younger.
A friend in New Mexico (formerly of Lake Jackson) wrote that his daughter in L.A. couldn’t buy flour and yeast to make bread. I suggested he check the King Arthur flour web site. He responded that they, too, are having trouble with heavy ordering, difficult shipping problems, and thinning out of staff due to quarantining. So, don’t expect a bag of flour any time soon. Besides, even before the plague, the cost of shipping five pound bags of flour from Vermont to Texas was prohibitive.
But let’s talk about Lake Jackson.
My last two trips to HEB found the shelves spare on the first trip and virtually empty on my second the day before yesterday (Monday, March 16). Since we tend to the foodie side of the political spectrum, I was able to snag a couple of items we needed to make a pot of chili — the very last can of black beans on the shelf and a jar of tomatoes.
Now, I was looking for 14 oz. can of some ordinary diced tomatoes. Of course they were not available. What they did have was larger and a tad more upscale: some organic diced tomatoes from San Something-or-the-Otherino in Italy. I scored those and they made the most delicious chili we have ever enjoyed here at our house. Then, today, I remembered that everybody in Italy is dying. Oh well.
I was also instructed to pick up fresh cilantro if they had any. Of course, fresh cilantro was almost the only thing they had left in fresh produce. No surprise there. But there was a woman at the cilantro bin going through every bunch with her bare hands. I have no reason to believe her hands were any more unclean than mine, but just watching her made me uncomfortable enough to decide to move on without fresh cilantro.
And, did I say it was the best chili we ever made at our house?
Moving on. Organic capers? (Not for the chili.) No problem. They should still have plenty if they are on your list. Just pray they don’t give you diarrhea. If you have trouble making the connection, then you haven’t shopped for toilet paper lately. None in sight, friends.
On the bright side, the next night we were hoping to help a friend stay in business by ordering a carry-out. We found The Local to be very much open and ready to send out meals. We trust them to wash their hands, sneeze into their elbows and stay home if they are sick.
The meal was brought to me without having to get out of the car (a cell call after I arrived was all it took) and it was still hot when I got it home. Best of all, it didn’t have to be handled by a third party delivery service with gig economy health insurance. Always good eats at The Local. But we missed the people, the atmosphere and the occasional chat with the owner who is willing to manage the enterprise from a seat in our booth while we talk about our families, the way business is going, issues at our church, etc.
And, on the subject of trying to be good patrons of local enterprises, I direct your attention to the Blue Water Highway Band. They are offering a live-stream concert tomorrow night since, as they pointed out, they are finding themselves with time on their hands since social distancing doesn’t work so well with their mosh pit crowds. Their live concerts were being cancelled about as far ahead as they had them scheduled. So, give it a look. We will be “there” tomorrow night. And leave them a tip. The ticket is only $20 and you can enjoy it with as many people as you can squeeze in 6 feet apart around your computer. We love these kids. Help them, please.
And be entertained as you watch the world spiral downward. And downward.
Father Charles Williams (1989-1994) had a keen interest not only in setting the intellectual tone of the parish but also in enhancing its artistic environment. The emphasis on the arts was most appropriate, for the parish served as a place of rehearsal, performance, and research for fine arts students, especially from TWU, for many years. Father Williams encouraged the remodeling of the altar area. After his death, the parish published a book of his sermons. Though known for his intellectualism and quiet nature, Father Williams also provided a good laugh. After telling the children at a Blessing of the Animals ceremony that pets did not go to heaven, he was petitioned by the children to reconsider. By that point, he had acquired a much-loved dog and deemed that pets did, indeed, go to heaven.
The parishioners at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Denton, Texas, must have thought it rude for a tourist to show up just before the morning service Sunday (February 23) as the congregation gathered for worship. My wife and I were just starting our trip back to Lake Jackson after spending Saturday watching our granddaughter compete in a gymnastics meet. We had discussed the possibility of looking up the church in Denton where my college roommate and our best man had served as rector until his death in 1994.
I was was pretty sure I would not enjoy being among strangers, most of whom would be too young to know my friend and none of whom, certainly, would know the Charles Thomas Williams I knew in college at the University of Houston. Moreover, I didn’t want our presence to be disruptive of the worship environment.
“But there may be a memorial of some kind and we could at least look around the outer grounds,” my wife argued. I acceded and she parked the car while I strapped my monster camera around my neck, slapped on my big Stetson crushable, and did my best to look like anything but a person hoping to be drawn into conversation with an Episcopalian in a worshipful mood.
Don Sanders, songwriter and singer, died Saturday from the combined effects of frontotemporal dementia accompanied by ALS, a very cruel combination in the Alzheimer family of disorders. It was a final irony on his career that his death was big news in the Houston Chronicle, a paper that had paid him little attention during his most productive years.
I met Don Sanders just after enrolling at the University of Houston in 1961. Don came there from Jones High School in Houston. I arrived from Galena Park.
We had both been accepted into the Interdisciplinary Honors Program, the forerunner of today’s Honors College. We had several classes together each our first two years and a weekly colloquium in the junior and senior years.
Don was a sharp kid. He had an acerbic wit and a green corduroy suit that he wore almost every day of our freshman year or, who knows, he may have owned several. But I doubt it. He didn’t come from the kind of family where the kids had more than one suit. The suit was in the style of his heroes the Kingston Trio.
Don played guitar and banjo and sang folk songs that were beginning to pick up in popularity in the early sixties. We learned from Don about hootenannies, the Limeliters, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly and Joan Baez. As Don became an accomplished musician, he sang with beautiful control and a great range. Early on, he was always high pitched and his voice could be irritating at first. The beauty and finesse of his vocal performances I heard thirty years later were shocking to me at first.
But Don was so much more than a folk singer. He wrote songs, performed on stage, did comedy, wrote a novel or two (never published as far as I know), performed for children, and wrote probably tons of poems. Apparently, even more than those things, he inspired other people to do their best work. Some of them are names you probably know very well. He was a regular at Houston’s Anderson Fair and on KPFT.
I wasn’t in touch with Don after college. His music scene was not one that I fit into and I was busy with the kind of boring white collar jobs he was intent on avoiding. His astonishing career is fairly well covered in the Houston Chronicle article. There is also an interview in the Houston folk music oral history archive.
Don and I were in touch again after Hurricane Ike in 2009 when he performed at the Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston as a benefit to help rebuild the facility that had been severely damaged in the storm. In 2012 he asked if I could help him with some memories from our college years for the personal memoir he was writing. I wondered whether it would still seem like a friendship after all those years pursuing our very different lives. But we found a lot of joy in our conversation that day, July 1, 2012.
As it turned out, there wasn’t much I could offer to fill in the cracks in such a creative life as his. We reminisced about the day in November 1963 when we went to his house near the runways of Hobby Airport (it was Houston International then) to see if we could see John Kennedy on his arrival in Texas. There were several of us from University of Houston and we did, indeed, get to see the president and first lady, two days before he was killed in Dallas.
Three or four of us stayed over at Don’s house that night. His mother made breakfast for us and as we prepared to make our way back to our morning classes at UH, Don called out, “Charles, Tom: come and see these guys. I have never seen anything like this. They are going to be big.” So we rushed in to see the image of the Beatles performing on tape on the Dave Garroway Show. You could have fooled me. Although I became accustomed to and learned to love the Beatles later, I really didn’t get what was so special then. But Don had the ear for it. This was several months before they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and took America by a storm.
My regret today is that I did not pay more attention to an old friend as he struggled to make it in the music world. He apparently inspired others and they did the things they had to do to have fame. But Don wanted something else. He wanted peace: peace in the world and peace in his own life. Staying in Houston was his gift to America’s new great city.
Don came back to visit Lake Jackson again in the summer of 2013 when I invited him to see our Brazosport Center Stages production of Les Misérables. He had kind things to say about our local production.
I went to see Don at his home in the Heights a few weeks ago. By then, his disease had greatly diminished his ability to communicate. We spoke a few short minutes and he told me had to go somewhere which was highly unlikely. I held his hand and told him I would try to return when he had more time to talk. But I knew he was uncomfortable with the visit and I really doubted I would be returning.
Sunday morning, I received the email announcing his passing.