Wednesday, May 31, 2017

My childhood friend, Evelyn

I just read the obituary of Evelyn Marie Kutach Stavinoha, my childhood friend. February 16, 1945 - May 20, 2017

Evelyn Kutach and I were both born in Wharton, Texas.  I was born about 6 weeks before she was and we grew up living just a few miles from each other. Evelyn and I met in elementary school in Iago, probably in first grade, and became best friends. We had lots in common. We were both blondes with fair skin and we were both from big families. I was the youngest and only girl with 5 older brothers. Evelyn had 7 brothers and 4 sisters. We were both raised in the country in hard working families. She was Catholic, as were most of the other Czech families in our area, so we didn't go to church together. Back then we called people of Czech descent, Bohemians. There were lots of "bohemian" families in Wharton County and most were farmers. 

Evelyn and I remained good friends up until high school. I got very involved in the band, became a twirler, was active in FHA and got a steady boyfriend. I guess we just had different interests. I'm not sure why, but we didn't keep our close friendship and at some point in high school, Evelyn dropped out of school, I think, because she didn't graduate with us. I never saw her again. I heard later that she married and lived near Wallis. After I married and moved to College Station, we went through Wallis often and many times I thought of her and wished I could see her. 


I read her obituary and realized that even in adulthood, we still had lots in common. She liked to pick up pecans and work in her yard. She loved to travel and make people laugh. Her husband of many years passed away last year and she was grieving the loss. This made me sad to think that we didn't make the effort to stay connected. We were such good friends growing up and we could have remained good friends as adults. 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Two weddings and a funeral

I have thought many times about writing on this topic. In fact, I thought maybe I had already written about it, but can't find it, so here goes.  After seeing a post on Facebook today about a judge friend of mine performing a marriage ceremony, I once again thought about this and it was the inspiration I needed to tell the story about two weddings and a funeral.

Neither Art nor I were ministers, so this might come as a surprise to some, but we both officiated at a funeral and Art was the officiant at two weddings. After all, if a judge can "pronounce you husband and wife"...why wouldn't Art King be able to? And you certainly don't need to be a "reverend" to speak at a funeral. The weddings were both in 2009 and the funeral was some years before that.

I'll start with the funeral since it occurred first. I had a friend, Evelyn Smith. We met at church and had been close during a time when we were both very involved in Discovery...a ministry that deserved it's own blog post. We so enjoyed talking on the phone and working together and for several years spent many hours doing those things. But in the years after that, we barely saw each other or talked because she went back to college, first at Blinn College and then she graduated from Texas A&M. After that, Blinn hired her full time.  We didn't have a problem that kept us from being friends. It was just one of those cases where you just get busy and don't make the effort. She had a husband and two girls, so with school and working, she was busy and I was, too, so we kind of lost touch. One day I got a call from her husband, Jim, with the sad news that Evelyn had a stroke and died suddenly at home. Evelyn had not been sick and was young (in her 50s) so her sudden death was very unexpected. In the same conversation, Jim shocked me again by asking if I would be in charge of her funeral service...as in serving as the minister. Evelyn was a believer but they had not been very active in church. In fact, they had not attended church at all in recent years, so they didn't have a pastor. Jim told me how much Evelyn had thought of me and considered me her spiritual leader. What could I say? My mind started turning and I tried to come up with every excuse I could think of, but I knew that I couldn't say "no" to Jim's request. When I hung up the phone, I immediately called Art and told him the news and begged him to help me. I told him that he would just have to do part of the service. After all, he was the one who always got up in front of people and was a great public speaker. I was accustomed to sitting in the background and getting behind a microphone was terrifying for me. As usual, Art King came to my rescue and agreed to help me. We got the appropriate dates, family members' names, etc. from Jim and then we began writing down what we wanted to say about Evelyn and her life. Since I had not really known much about her recent years, it was difficult for me. Somehow, we came up with what we thought would be appropriate and meaningful to her family. The service was at Hillier Funeral Home in Bryan. When I arrived and realized how many academics from Blinn were there, I got even more nervous, but somehow I muddled through my part and of course Art did great, as always. After the service was over, Art and I went out and got in our Suburban, or whatever we were driving at the time. Immediately, an employee of the funeral home walked over to inform us that the "clergy" would lead the procession to the cemetery and explained the procedure. We had kind of been in a state of disbelief and uncertainty and anxious about the whole thing, so when the guy walked away....we looked at each other and broke out in laughter! The clergy? He called us the clergy! We felt really bad about laughing, but we needed it. Well, we led the hearse, the family and the others on the slow procession to the cemetery and as we did, we sat up a little taller and felt a little prouder for serving as the clergy for a funeral of a dear friend.

Now for the two weddings. For many years Art and I taught and mentored young engaged and newly married couples in 3 different churches for more than 30 years. In March or early April of 2009, one of the engaged couples called and said they needed to talk to us. Their wedding was scheduled for late April in our church in Bryan. Our pastor had just informed them that he had a family conflict and would be unable to officiate their wedding. He had asked them if there was anyone else they would like to ask to marry them and they immediately said "Art King...can he do it?" The pastor thought about it for a minute and told them that anyone in Texas can perform marriage ceremonies.  He would meet with Art and help him with the vows and appropriate words to say and he would even sign the marriage certificate, just in case there was any doubt about it being official. The young couple was overjoyed and Art felt honored to be asked. He met with the pastor and was assured that it would be official, even though Art was not a minister. He was ordained as a deacon in the Baptist Church and oh yes....remember he served as clergy for a funeral, remember? Just kidding. Well, we did the rehearsal and the wedding and Art did a great job and we think they've been legally married for 8 years! He was a little nervous but he loved performing the ceremony, even though he did not like weddings. It was a very special occasion for the couple and the officiant.

Just a short time after that wedding, another engaged couple in our class asked Art to marry them a few months later in August. Well, of course he said he would. Why not? They wanted him to say pretty much the same things he had said during the first ceremony, so this time should be easier. I forgot to mention that he had hand written the vows and we had taped them in a nice black bound book with blank pages...one of the several books that I had given him through the years for him to write the books he never finished writing. At least he got some use out of that book! Anyway, he still had the vows written and taped in it, so he just changed the names and a few other words and he was good to go! Again, he did a great job and I still have that book with his hand written marriage ceremony in it. The  couple was happy that he married them and Art, once again, felt so proud and honored to pronounce them "Mr. and Mrs".

To this day, both of these couples are extra special to me and as far as I can tell, they have great marriages.

I think back with sweet memories, lots of pride and big smiles on the two weddings and a funeral!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Stuff

"The objects you keep in your home define who you are".   This was said at the beginning of a recent tv show about Donald Trump. He was interviewed in his home and he was asked about some of the things there that were meaningful to him. I've been thinking about the things I've kept in my home.

About a year and a half ago, I made the decision to get rid of a lot of things we had accumulated through the years. I sold some things to friends and antique dealers, gave some away and threw some in the trash. That wasn't easy for me because I like to hang on to things. I get attached to things. I keep things that have sentimental value and tried really hard not to get rid of anything like that.

Before Art and I got into the estate sale business, we really didn't truly appreciate antiques and older or vintage things. We had never spent a lot of money on furniture and home accessories but when we did buy something new, we kept it for a very long time. I was reminded of this recently when Ken was visiting me in Nashville and reclining in my old Lazy Boy. He mentioned how long we had had it and we both guessed about 40 years. I told him it had been recovered twice since it's original olive green fabric. You can't say we didn't get our money's worth out of that recliner. It's been moved to several different houses and still serving a purpose in my room here. Soon it will be moved to another room in another house in Nashville. It needs some oil in a few places to help it move a little easier, but it's still comfortable and serves it's purpose.

The estate auction business really influenced our tastes and the choices we made when it came to the furnishings and accessories in our house. I like that many things in my house have a story. There's not much to say about something that was purchased new in a store. I like that some of our furniture came from my parents' home and in most cases, if not all, they were covered with numerous coats of paint. Art and I spent many hours stripping paint from furniture that my mom had applied to some really nice oak furniture. Art would complain as he worked. When that beautiful oak wood grain was revealed, he just couldn't understand how she could have ever covered it with paint.The things that I've kept through the years are mostly those that were passed down to us from family and the estate auction business is responsible for me recognizing their value.

Maybe 10-15 years ago, we were contacted by a couple of young women who were producing a documentary about estate sales. They had heard about our business and had even attended one of our recent auctions. They wanted to interview us and follow us through the process from beginning to end. One thing about that interview still remains vivid in my mind. When we were asked what item in our home would we not want sold when the time came for our possessions to be dispersed. I looked around our living room where we were sitting. My eyes stopped when I saw my piano and I said for me it was that one thing...my piano. I had just revealed that the estate auction business had taught me that all your worldly possessions are just stuff. Stuff that means a lot to us but probably not to anyone else. But my piano is not just stuff to me. My daddy bought it for me when I was 6 years old. It was not new at the time, but I'm sure it wasn't cheap. My daddy worked hard for the money he paid for it and he did it because his little girl wanted to take piano lessons. That piano has been with me through lots of good times and bad times and it's brought me lots of enjoyment and solace. "The objects you keep in your home define who you are."

There is so much more I want to share about things in my home, so I guess there should be a continuation of this post. I'll do that another day.




Friday, February 10, 2017

The Train Whistle

As I lie in bed tonight...in my bed, in my bedroom, in my home...I hear the train whistle blowing.  I've missed hearing that sound. The train tracks are probably about a half mile west of my house. Trains travel those tracks frequently throughout the day and night. I have many memories of the tracks and the trains that travel on them.

Those tracks run through Bryan, College Station and the Texas A&M campus. When Art and I attended A&M baseball games, it was always a fun time when the train passed by Olsen Field during games. The train engineers would sound the Aggie hull-a-ba-loo, caneck-canek in the familiar staccato fashion and cheers would rise up from those of us at the game. The crowd seemed to love it when they heard a train coming.

Art was always very involved in community affairs. While he was president of the chamber of commerce, much of the discussions centered on how to move the tracks. The train passing through the middle of the campus, and the two cities, presented traffic and safety concerns. Some wanted the tracks lowered, some wanted them raised, some suggested the streets should be routed under them, some said go over them, and others wanted them moved away from the populated areas out amongst the farm and ranch lands. I remember Art believing that the railroad tracks prevented the west side of Bryan from being developed to it's full potential and he always thought the west side was the prettiest area of Bryan. I recall after working so hard to get the two cities, the county and the university on the same page, Art was very disappointed when the city of College Station backed out and withdrew their portion of the funding. When that happened, the whole project was set back. He was so disappointed. It was just another reason for his not so positive feelings about College Station.

One night Ken had a most memorable ride on a train rolling down those tracks, beginning near downtown Bryan and ending past Millican. I won't go into details about that infamous train ride, but because of it, the train whistles blowing tonight bring about the reason for my inspiration to write these memories.

About this time of year in 2008, Ken was diagnosed with stage 3 head and neck cancer. When that happened, our lives were devastated. He was married, they had three little boys and they were living in Alabama...a long way from Bryan, TX. We could and would visit them often, but we couldn't be there all the time. During those months, I had lots of sleepless nights. One night, early on during Ken's cancer journey, I lay awake thinking, crying, feeling so helpless and scared. Then I heard the train whistle blowing. I thought of Ken's ride on those tracks and how he had survived a very scary, dangerous experience that night. I knew he would need many prayers to make it through a much scarier, more dangerous cancer journey. So right then I knew that each time I would hear the train whistle blowing, it would be a signal for me to pray like I'd never prayed before. Night after night I would doze for a while and suddenly awaken to hear the train calling out to me to pray. Many times every night I talked to God and I discovered those trains rolled down the tracks near our house more often than I had ever known.

Yes, as I lie in my bed tonight, I hear those train whistles blowing. Ken is in the bedroom downstairs sleeping. Our lives have changed drastically since 2008. Lots of changes. But some things remain the same. The railroad tracks are still there. Finally some things were done to improve the situation. The streets were redirected under the tracks at a couple of busy crossings. West Bryan is booming. But the railroad tracks remain. Trains continue to roll down those tracks and their whistles still blow all through the night.  I still hear them as I lie in bed and try to sleep.  And each time I hear that whistle blowing, I'm reminded to pray. It's blowing now. It's time for me to pray.



Saturday, February 4, 2017

Shoe Polish

The smell of shoe polish this afternoon brought tears to my eyes. I never cease to be amazed at the random things that bring back a rush of memories along with sometimes sadness and sometimes joy. This time it was shoe polish.

I shopped today at a store in Nashville called "Bargain Hunt". Anyone who knows me well, knows that I would be drawn to a store with a name like that. It's filled with all kinds of stuff that has been ordered on Amazon and returned. Somehow this place gets that merchandise and the longer they have it in the store, the cheaper it is. You look at the date on the price tag and then check charts located throughout the store to see what percentage off the marked price the item sells for. Not exactly convenient, but hey, it's a bargain and I love bargains! Today I saw some brown shoe polish already marked half the price of the last can of shoe polish I purchased and according to the date on the tag, it would be another 60% off that! With no hesitation, I added the brown shoe polish to my cart because I knew I had a pair of brown boots that needed to be polished.

When I got home, I grabbed my brown boots that had scuffs on the toes. I opened the can of brown polish and as I rubbed polish on the scuffs, that familiar, distinctive shoe polish smell brought back precious memories. That same smell filled our bedroom many times during the years Art and I were married. You see, he was in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M and he served in the U.S. Army where he was taught the importance of perfectly shined shoes and boots. He had a wooden box that was filled with different colors of shoe polish, a big soft shoe rag, a shoe shine brush, heel and sole dressing and leather cleaner. There was so much in that little box, you could hardly close it. That box was kept where it was easily accessible because it was used regularly.  Art meticulously followed the routine that he was taught as a "fish" in the corps and as a private in basic training in the Army. It was fun to watch. He could make a pair of shoes or boots look like new. He would spit on the toe at the end and pop that rag to give them a shine that almost allowed you to see yourself in it. That skill and practice remained with him throughout his life. He was a sharp dresser and shined shoes were important to him. If my shoes or boots started to look shabby, he would get out the box, and spiff them up for me.

So today as I rubbed the brown paste polish on my boots and watched the scuffs disappear, that distinctive shoe polish smell made me cry. I miss my shoe shine guy.

Friday, December 16, 2016

LaGuardia

This morning I read an article listing America's worst airports and at the top of the list was LaGuardia in New York. This gave me my inspiration to write. It brought back memories of the time I flew out of that airport just before Christmas, 3 years ago. I have wanted to write this story for several years but have hesitated because I wasn't sure I wanted to share it with the world, but it's just too good (or bad) not to! Because it's a very lengthy story, I will break it up into at least two parts. Since I had the inspiration about LaGuardia, I'll begin with the last part of the story.

For just a little background, I need to share that I was on a trip with friends. I call it "the trip from hell".  It was the first time I went on an out of state adventure without my man. Maybe I should have asked more questions, but it was not what I had anticipated. Maybe I shouldn't have gone, but then I wouldn't have this crazy story to tell you. Will writing about this last leg of the trip inspire me to soon share about the other adventures? I'll wait and see. I do know that I must now begin to record the events that occurred because they are just too memorable not to.

The driver who took us to LaGuardia, picked us up at our hotel in Times Square. As he drove us through New York City traffic, I was thinking how glad I was to be headed out of that place. At some point after being in the crowded SUV for close to an hour, I see signs indicating we are near Kennedy Airport. Oops! We inform the driver he's taking us to the wrong airport and he heads in a different direction. Okay, so now we're probably going to be late. When we finally get to LaGuardia, my terminal is first so I asked to be let out first. My luggage had been put in last. Letting me out first was not really what the passenger in the front seat wanted, but it was the logical thing to do. Right? After the driver helps get my luggage out, with a huge rolling bag stuffed to the weight limit, a bulging carry-on bag, the heaviest coat I owned, a purse, thick scarf and gloves, I enter LaGuardia Airport that morning just two days before Christmas.

The place was packed with Christmas travelers! I was nervous about being in an unfamiliar airport, stressed from all that had happened in the previous days and struggling to pull and carry all my stuff. After standing in long lines to get my ticket from a kiosk (a first for me), check my big luggage and go through security, I realized that I would have to run to catch my flight. I checked the screens and realized that my gate was at the very opposite end of the terminal from where I was. How would I get there in time? I was just days away from turning 70 and I had lots of stuff weighing me down, both physically and emotionally. With tears streaming down my face, I had no choice but to run as fast as I could through crowds of strangers. The weight of all the stuff I was carrying seemed almost more than I could handle but somehow I made it to the gate. There was standing room only! The area was packed! People were even sitting on the floor. I had to sit down before I fell down...but where? There wasn't even space on the floor to sit! I looked around and finally found a small place on the floor that I could squeeze into and literally fell into that spot...and cried. What was happening? A nice looking woman, about my age, was sitting on a tall stool beside me. She looked down at me and commented that if she were sitting on the floor, she wouldn't be able to get up.  I smiled and told her that I would need help. Then I asked her what was going on and she explained that because of the fog, several flights out of that gate were unable to take off, so there were a couple of plane loads of people waiting there. Oh great! I had a connecting flight in St. Louis. Would I make it? More to stress about. I looked at the man sitting next to the elderly woman who was telling me why there were so many of us there...and I recognized him.

Let me go back to earlier that morning in the hotel room in Times Square. As I was getting dressed, I was watching Fox and Friends on the Fox News Channel. They were sharing an interesting story about a deaf man who recently had been equipped with a new hearing aid that allowed him to hear the beautiful voice of his teenage daughter singing at a school program. The man and his daughter were live in the Fox studio in New York. I was enamored by their story and drawn to the good looking man and his beautiful daughter. He was tall, dark and handsome and his white golf shirt next to his dark skin made him stand out. The daughter was a petite, vivacious, lovely young lady. Their story was a good ending to my not so good stay in The Big Apple. I was glad that I had the tv on at that particular time.

The man sitting there in that chaos in LaGuardia was him! I said to the woman, "I just saw him on tv." She told me he was her son and pointed out that her granddaughter was sitting across the room. I knew he could read lips, so I told him how much their story had touched me and he smiled and thanked me. I discovered that we would be boarding the same plane to St. Louis. I knew in that moment that God had gone before me and planned all that to bring some brightness to my life in an otherwise miserable situation. After a very long wait, we finally boarded our plane and guess what? The young lady was sitting right across the aisle from me and her dad was in the seat in front of me. She and I talked most of our flight to St. Louis and I found out that her parents were divorced and there was a problem with the mother. She was a very mature girl for her age and she loves the Lord. We had a great conversation. God is good.

Just before landing in St. Louis, I noticed that the passenger sitting next me was holding a ticket for her connecting flight. Panic! I realized that I didn't have another ticket for my flight on to Birmingham. Obviously a more seasoned traveler, she explained that I should have gotten two tickets from the kiosk at LaGuardia. Oops! I had been in such a hurry that I didn't wait for the second ticket to print out. So on top of maybe missing my flight, because of the delay, I had no ticket to show. More stress. We landed and I began my run to the gate where I needed to be. The plane was boarded but the doors had not closed. Out of breath and about to cry, I explained to the gate attendant that I had no ticket. She checked my id, looked on her screen and waved me on. Whew! I found my seat, the only empty one on the plane and sat down next to a woman, about my age, who was also going to Birmingham to spend Christmas with her kids and grandkids. She saw my face and realized my obvious distress and immediately started praying for me. Yes, out loud, unashamedly praying for me on the plane. We had a great visit.

We landed in Birmingham and I texted Ken that I was in the airport.  As I stood there waiting for my luggage to appear on the carousel, I started wondering how I would ever get that heavy bag off the moving belt. I was totally exhausted. Totally. About to cry again, I look up and saw a tall young man wearing an Alabama cap standing in front of me and he asked if he could help me with my luggage. I quickly said "yes". I pointed out my bag as it came by, he lifted it off the carousel and asked me where I wanted him to take it. I was almost speechless and motioned toward the closest door just a few feet away. I asked him why he was there and he just said something about waiting for his girlfriend. I tipped him. He didn't want to accept it but I insisted. He was an angel and I told him so. He walked away. About that time Ken called to tell me that he couldn't get to me on that level and I would have to go up the escalator to the next level and meet him there. How would I get that heavy, gigantic luggage up the escalator? Well, somehow I got on and about a fourth of the way up, it started sliding back down the escalator and I didn't have the strength to stop it. A nice lady behind me came to my rescue and pushed on it with her body to keep it from tumbling down the escalator and hurting someone.  Finally, I reached the next level and the exit door. I stepped out into the fresh air for the first time since entering LaGuardia earlier that morning. Ken was there. I got in his truck and cried.


Back to LaGuardia being the worst airport in America: Through the tears and the nightmarish circumstances during the time I was there, I couldn't help but notice that it was a dirty, dilapidated airport that obviously needs some TLC. It is old and rundown. The floor I sat on was cold and nasty. I've since heard that people have seen rats running around there. I'm not sure there was room for a rat the day I was in LaGuardia. I do know that I never want to go back there again. Compared to the other airports I've been in...I agree with its ranking as the worst.

What a day! What a trip! And I didn't even explain all the heartache I was going through...our family was going through. Chaos and drama and turmoil surrounded our lives. But through it all, God was there. He sent angels time and time again. And He continues to.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Ruby

In the fall of 1963, I started my college days at Sam Houston State Teachers College (now Sam Houston State University) in Huntsville, Texas. I moved into Estill Dormitory with about 250 other girls. We lived in suites with 2 girls in each room and a bathroom between the rooms. My roommate was Donna from Austin. Our suitemates were Ruby from Splendora and Francis from Cleveland, TX. Donna and I had very little in common, so I was disappointed that I missed out on the college roommate bonding I had heard so much about. Ruby and Francis were a little closer than Donna and I but they didn't really have that roommate bond either. Ruby and I became good friends, though, and shared some special things between us that no one else knew. After completing the fall and spring semesters, I decided to leave Sam Houston and transfer to Baylor University the next fall.

For some reason, Ruby and I didn't stay in touch. In those days, there was no email, no internet,  no cell phones, texting, Facebook or Instagram and all the other things that now make it easy to keep in touch with friends. To communicate you had to depend on mail and that took more effort than we apparently were willing to do. We went our separate ways, but I never forgot about Ruby and many times I wondered where she was was and what her life was like.

Because of some things that have happened the past few months, I have thought about Ruby more often. Last night I decided to seriously try to find her. The Internet is wonderful! Within just a few minutes of searching, I found Ruby. I found her address and her home phone number. I called the number, but no one answered and I decided not to leave a message. In less than a minute, Ruby returned my call. It had been 52 1/2 years since I had talked to her, but I recognized her voice. We had a great conversation and wondered why it had taken so long to reconnect. As concise as possible, we shared the highlights of the last five decades. Plans were made to meet in just a few weeks while I'm in Texas for Christmas. She lives in The Woodlands and we plan to meet for lunch in Navasota. Ruby gave me her cell number and we texted this morning. She thanked me for making the effort to find her. We're both so grateful to be back in touch and renew our relationship.

I continue to be amazed how God has blessed me with special friends and relationships in my life. In the past couple of years God has brought some new friends and also allowed me to get back in touch with old ones. It's been something I've needed and God provided, as always. I cherish each friendship I have.