My personal path


Mount Pleasant, Texas, September 6, 1949: At the time of my matriculation into the first grade at East Ward Elementary (a squat rectangular building that could easily have passed for a penal institution), Miss Sims was already more than 60 years old and had been teaching there for 28 years. Born in Victorian times, she was the classic old maid school teacher, gray hair in a bun, stern countenance and malevolent attitude, who expected her students to color within the lines, behave impeccably and obey her demands instantly.

Me, Art & Nancy

Me, Art and Nancy

I arrived for my first day of school a shy, sensitive, self-conscious, scared, scrawny little kid who typically ingratiated himself to others to gain their approval and be included in their games. But there were so many new faces (20 or so), and Miss Sims’ foreboding manner didn’t raise my comfort level at all.

Holy cow, who are all of these kids? That old woman really looks mean. I don’t want to be here! I want to go home! Please, Mommy, take me home with you! (more…)

Our four-year-old daughter Gracelyn is quite the rhymester, frequently making up poems and songs for her own entertainment and, so it would seem, for ours too. So, at Lake Eden Arts Festival (LEAF) a few weeks ago, we decided to go to the youth poetry slam, where Gracelyn could see kids performing their work and experience a unique style of poetry.LKVRootsHobeyCrowdZB_webMay14

Well, the youthful poets, their poems and their delivery were more intense than we’d anticipated, so after two poems, Shonnie and Gracelyn left to play in the grass away from the tent that served as the venue. Engrossed by the performances, I chose to stick around a bit longer.

The next slammer was an passionate young woman who performed a heart-achingly poignant poem about the life of a lesbian in small-town North Carolina, how she was once called an abomination while grocery shopping with her partner, closing with a defiant stance in the face of such shameless bigotry. I was literally moved to tears, but having made a commitment to join Shonnie and Gracelyn, I reluctantly got up to leave.

As I moved to the back of the tent, I recognized a woman who, with her husband, had joined us on the LEAF hike that Shonnie and I had led on the previous day, her eyes, too, filled with tears. We gazed at each other for a moment, and though words were really pointless, I mindlessly mumbled, “Wow, that was really powerful.”

Without hesitation, “Hug me,” the woman called. As we embraced, she began sobbing inconsolably on my shoulder. In an instant, I began bawling too. We held each other close, crying unashamedly . . . for seconds? . . . minutes? I have no idea. Long enough, seemingly, to at least partially cleanse ourselves of the unexpressed grief we’d been withholding . . . for the young poet, yes, but also for ourselves, our loved ones, our world.

We slowly regained our composure, and in due course, I gently kissed her on the cheek and slowly walked away to rejoin my family.

I may never see this woman again, but I know the serendipitous crossing of our paths will remain with me forever.

Well, I made history today, personal history anyway. The mountain trails we run on are filled with twists and turns with roots and rocks scattered liberally along the way. Typically I’ll take a spill every 20 runs or so. No consequences more serious that a bruised ego most of the time. In fact, once during my last Shut-In Trail Race, I fell, did a complete somersault and came up running.

On my run today, however, I slipped, tripped and fell three times, capped off by running my face into an overhanging tree limb. Granted there were new-fallen leaves obscuring obstacles beneath and making the surface slippery. Nonetheless after the tree limb incident, I decided to walk the rest of the way while Shonnie ran on ahead. Discretion, valor and all that. :-)

In honor of our 15 years of married life together, an encore post of the story of how Shonnie and I met and fell in love.

I first laid eyes on Shonnie Lavender in 1995 when we both joined the Austin Fit Green Training Group for the Austin Motorola Marathon. It was August, and as usual, hot as Hades in the capitol city of Texas—highs in the upper 90s to lower 100s. Of course, Austin runners (about ten percent of the city’s population) are accustomed to being thoroughly sweat-soaked through and through by the time they hit the quarter-mile mark.

Between 20 to 30 intermediate-level runners in our group met early each Saturday morning at Town Lake. With the support of our coaches, we ran increasingly long distances on the trails around the lake (ultimately up to 20+ miles) in preparation for the marathon that would take place on February 18, 1996. For the record, there were also beginning and elite runners groups that trained on Saturday mornings as well.

Austin Fit Green Group

Austin Fit Green Group

After running together week after week for longer and longer distances, the size of our group dwindled to seven runners. Shonnie was the only remaining woman. My first recollection of the single feminine member of our group was of a very attractive, assertive woman of indeterminate age who looked pretty damned good in running tights. Our group’s theory was if we were running too fast to chat, we were running too fast. So after many hours on the trails around Town Lake, we got to know a bit about one another, and I soon learned Shonnie was in a relationship as I was at the time. (more…)

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