Sunday, October 04, 2015

The trials and tribulations of arboreal diversity

There's some early fall color from Red Maples on our street. Of course "Fall" is more a state of mind than a fact of life this time of year on Houston. In fact these maples celebrate fall in the same way that folks from Greece or China celebrate their ethnic festivals. They pick out a time in October when the trees back in the old country are celebrating and go all red themselves. The orange, grapefruit and lemon trees do the same thing around Christmas, turning their fruit bright citrusy  colors that celebrate the season just kust like dear old grandad did. The tropical palm trees (who are also botanical immigrants, more and more coming every day) disapprove of all this polyseasonistic behavior. They hold that "there is no Season but Hot Season and the Date Palm is its Prophet". Occasionally this leads to violence where Maples and Oaks have their tops lopped off. Which ticks off the native Texan Live Oak trees who get all up into the foreign trees' grilles while the Arizona and California Ash trees plead "dudes! Can't we all just get along". Such are the trials and tribulations of arboreal diversity.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Eulogy for Hugh Warren Reeves

"Are we true to ourselves, or do we live for the expectations of others? And if we are open and honest…can we ever truly be loved? Can we find the courage to release our deepest secrets…or in the end, are we all unknowable? Even to ourselves."
Believe it or not, that's a quote from a TV show. It gives voice to one of the great philosophical questions of all time: can we really know someone? Even ourselves? It's an argument that Augustine the famous third century Roman theologian took up. He proposed that only God can know us completely and I suppose that's true. But I knew my father - at least I knew him from the facets that I could see. Because like all of us my father was a precious stone fashioned by God and God's world into a many faceted jewel. A jewel of great complexity and beauty. I could see him only from my perspective - as a son and perhaps a friend. I could not see him as a husband, or a brother, or a colleague although I believe that in the way light shines into one facet of a diamond and refracts out the others I could get a glimpse of my father through your eyes and you of him through mine.

So today I am going to tell you about my father as I saw him, through the facets he presented to me. I hope that my memories shine through him and illuminate your memories of my "pop" Hugh Warren Reeves.

First and foremost my father was True. I have never and suppose I never will meet a truer man. He was honest when it mattered and honest when it was hard - I know there were times in his career where his unwillingness to shade or obscure the truth cost him professionally. Sometimes his truth could be irritating, even in my estimation petty but at crucial times he served me brutal honesty when I needed it so very much, I recall a time when I was in college and described to him a 'prank' that some of my friends had committed and that I thought was so very clever. We were walking together at the time and he stopped, looked me straight in the eye and said "anyone who does that is a blank" stating a certain word which I won't repeat. I had never heard my father use that word before. But it was the right word and I needed to hear it. He was true to his standards and true to me. I have never and could never live up to his.

My father was indega, indegaft, indefatigable - well, I really can't pronounce that word - he was relentless, he never gave up or gave in. Never gave up on himself and he never gave up on us. He had setbacks and frustrations like we all do but they never appeared to affect his efforts on behalf of those he had made commitments to - he just kept on plugging away. When we moved to Singapore my brother and I signed up for little league. We were without a doubt, the worst baseball players on our respective teams. So rather than let us languish on the bench between short stints in Right Field pop got up before dawn to go to work so he could come home early and practice with us before it got dark which in equatorial Singapore was at six PM sharp, every day of the year. In all the months he did that I can't recall seeing any other parent doing the same for their children. Pop didn't give up.

I could give you many more examples of his relentlessness but I would be remiss if I didn't tell you about the one, single, solitary time that I am aware of that pop did throw in the towel. My father was a great golfer and he wanted his sons to enjoy the game he loved. So he paid for years of golf lessons for us at the Island Club in Singapore and took us 'golfing' in the same way that he helped us with baseball. Many years later when my brother and I were home for Thanksgiving he took us out for a round here in Houston at Quail Valley. After I had shanked, topped, sliced or plopped my seventh in a row into a pond or someone's yard he turned to me and said "You know, you're never going to be any good at this game". It turns out that pop could also be a realist.

My father was loyal - to us and to the rest of both sides of our family. Pop was the go to guy when people ran into trouble, when they needed help. Once in a while back when I was making a lot of money I would get a call from him giving my 'subscribed' amount to help out another member of our extended family. Despite the fact that I made more than him back then I always knew his number was bigger. And in the fullness of time when things got hard for me, he stood there to help us too. Sometimes his loyalty got the best of him. In particular he did not respond well when he thought someone was failing to show appropriate respect to his family. One time on our way home from Jakarta we laid over for the night at a Hong Kong hotel. It was rather late when we arrived and the desk clerk apologized and said that there were no rooms left but not to worry if we would just follow him and the porters they would walk us to another hotel nearby. My father was having none of that. He could sense that his family was being treated without the respect that we deserved. So despite the clerk's protestations and assurances he demanded that they call a cab to drive us to the new venue. When we got in the cab, the bellman gave directions in Cantonese. The cabbie turned and looked at us quizzically and then shrugged his shoulders and put the car into gear. If you've ever been to Victoria or the Hong Kong Island side of Hong Kong you know that it is very hilly, crowded and back then constantly under construction with many one way roads. So long story short, we spent about fifteen minutes driving in dense traffic up, around, back and then down to other side of the city block where we had started where the porter was waiting with our bags.

But my father always fought for us. He was always on our side.

My father loved his family deeply. He didn't show it much in public but among us, at certain times his love blazed through. When my son - who was his first grandchild - was born he and my mother were with my wife's parents at the hospital waiting for the blessed event. It was quite the scene with the grandmothers unable to abide by hospital rules and constantly making unauthorized forays to the birthing room for a peek and being thrown back with increasing stridency by the staff. But eventually Sam came - he's the large bearded one up front - and after all the post birth details were resolved he was plopped into my arms to carry out to meet his grandparents. I knew my Father so I gave Sam to him first and almost immediately his tears began and didn't stop for quite some time. It was very characteristic of him to love so openly. And so very beautiful. And when he was sick, particularly when he was suffering the indignity of one of the many painful procedure he endured, he would always tell me just how much he loved us and how grateful he was to us for what we were doing for him.

One other important thing about his love: he and my mother had their 'moments' of conflict - we all did with him - and sometimes the insensitivity of his truthfulness could wound. But I will say this with absolute certainty: my father never, ever said a disparaging word to me about my mother. He invariably praised her and told me how grateful he was that she had married him. As he proudly told anyone who would listen, she was the love of his life.

My father didn't talk of faith much but later in life I know that he reflected upon it a great deal and that he was a Christian in the traditional, orthodox sense that he placed his faith wholly in Jesus' substitutionary atonement for his salvation. He said that he most felt God's presence when singing with the choir. That one: behind me and I can believe that for my father experienced things of the heart so very deeply.

So that's the man I knew and grew up loving. He wasn't always easy but he was always true. His relentlessness often irritated me but he would not let me give up. His stiff backed Anglo Scottish loyalty to kith and kin sometimes embarrassed me but he showed me how important family is and in his tears and in his life he showed me what it is for a man to love.

To end I'd like to do something that I think my father would have done had he had my literary bent. You see, I write poetry. There I said it. Not only that but from time to time I write love poetry. I know, I know but still (at this point my kids are probably rolling their eyes in the same way that I used to roll mine at my father. And all I can say is be patient, you'll get there). My love poems aren't usually targeted at any particular person, and I used to think that was odd. Yet after quite a bit of reflection I have concluded that what I'm really doing when I write about love is reflecting on all of the love that I have experienced up to that point in my life. And without a doubt one of the great loves of my life has been my father.

So I have a poem. Now most of this poem is irrelevant to Pop, simply the sort of stuff you would expect from a third rate hack like me, but as I reread the last stanza of it yesterday, my father's love suddenly shined through. So if you'll indulge me, I'll recite the last few lines that contain so much of my father's love as my last formal tribute to this great man that I loved so very much. The poem is entitled "To Know You"

And when our time is done

in death, despair or ruin.

I am more for knowing you

and you for knowing me.

And in the end when life

has no more time to run,

You are more for knowing me

and I for knowing you.

To understand you,

Love you,


To live so that at the end of days,

when all this world is done.

All of time cannot deny

that I knew you.

And was found,

known and


by you.


And that was my father, my pop. Thank you so very much for coming

Saturday, August 29, 2015

In Memory of Hugh Warren Reeves

Hugh Warren Reeves passed away on Sunday, August 23rd at 11:04 AM CDT after fighting a glorious eleven year war with cancer. Hugh was born to a noted Wichita oil man and his secretary - after she became his wife, of course.  Being the eldest son of a successful oil man, Hugh was sent back east to the Taft School for his education. But rather than march lockstep with the rest of his classmates to Yale and then Wall Street, Hugh chose to follow his father's footsteps into the oil business, attending the University of Oklahoma and learning to sing "Boomer Sooner" rather than "Boola Boola".  This choice was instrumental in making him a lifelong Sooner fan and a skeptic of all things Longhorn.  In his later years he would  frighten his sons by walking up to very large men who were dressed in University of Texas burnt orange and saying:  "Boomer Sooner".

Hugh was also an outstanding golfer. It is a testament to his commitment to the Game that despite holding a student deferment by the skin of his teeth during the Korean war, Hugh chose to focus on his golf rather than his studies. Fortunately for him, the Army sent him to Germany.  As he told one of his sons much later, he spent far more time on the frauleins than on the front lines. But all that was forgotten when he returned home and met the love of his life - Betty Jean Savage.  In his telling he fell in love with her on first sight and in the fullness of time made her his bride (after he had demonstrated the ability to graduate college and get a job that paid more than an itinerant golf pro) . He never looked at another woman.
Hugh and Jeanne married on December 23rd, 1959. And as is traditional among oil explorers, Hugh promptly dragged his new bride and eventually their two sons off to a seemingly never ending series of the oddest, most out of the way places in creation:  Big Lake, TX, Roundup, MT, Glendive, MT, Williston, ND, Casper, WY, Rifle CO, Red Deer Alberta and so on. This was in spite of his sons' desire to remain in a single location that had quality Saturday morning cartoon programming and large supplies of reasonably priced Dr. Pepper. In fact Hugh helped explore what is now known as the Bakken, the first and one of the largest of the oil fracking plays in North America. Unfortunately at the time they lacked the technology to exploit the find. A fact that - reflecting back on their time in North Dakota - his family looked upon with great relief.

Eventually Hugh's career took him and his family overseas, first to Abu Dhabi back when it was so primitive it didn't even have Dhabis and from there to Singapore during its first great burst of growth and thence to Indonesia where he explored for oil in the wilds of Borneo and Western New Guinea. Eventually Phillips Petroleum called him back to Houston where he retired and where Hugh and Jeanne chose to make their permanent home.  Blessed with health and free time he devoted himself to golf and good works, principally within the Methodist Church, eventually alighting at Christ United Methodist Church in Sugar Land, Texas.  A frustrated artist, Hugh eventually gave in to the siren song of one of the best Church Choirs in the greater Houston area, touring around the world with them several times.  He said that he felt God's presence most deeply when singing God's music.

Eventually illness caught up with Hugh in the form of a series of cancers.  He reacted in his typical “never say die” style by entering an experimental treatment study and outliving every single other member of the program. Saturday before last he was with his family celebrating his younger son's birthday.  It is a testament to his long and varied life that a man who had been born in the radio age was greeted by grandchildren via iPhone video chat.  Late that night Hugh began encountering serious difficulties attributable to his illness and a short time later entered the arms of the Savior that he trusted wholly for his salvation.  He is survived by his Wife Jeanne, his Sons, Bill and Todd, his Granddaughter, Amelia, Grandsons, Sam, Jake and Miles and his Sisters Nancy and Martha and their families. Hugh was a special man from a special time and we shall not see his like again.
Requiescat in pace

Sunday, August 23, 2015

My father died this morning. And I shall never have another.

My father died this morning. And I shall never have another.

He awoke in the wee hours with trouble breathing so we had the ambulance take him to the ER. I rode along. During the trip I had a suprisingly beautiful conversation with the young ambulance driver about life and death and loss. I guess being so close to so much death and pain gives one perspective.

Not long after we got to the ER dad lost consciousness and his vitals began to crash. We had specified do not resuscitate so the ER staff turned off all the beeping cacophony, turned down the lights and left me alone with him and my memories. For four hours I watched  as his breathing got slower and shallower until it finally stopped. I spent those hours alone with him in that dark, quiet room. I held his hand and over and over I told him how much I loved him and how very proud I was to be his son. I told him it was OK to stop fighting, to go into that good night. And then it hit me: I would never hear my father's voice again. There would be no more talks with "Pop" about the weather or the Sooners or the lawn or life. And that's when the tears that had been bottled up in me for him for so long came pouring out. Alone with my father in a dark room as the last grains of his life slipped away.

For my father died this morning. And I shall never have another.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Ode to My Larger Brother on the Anniversary of His Birth

Oh larger brother!
Monstrous, looming force from God,
with capacious jaw and large scale nod.
You envelop us in your great embrace,
as we disappear 'neath your solemn face.

Oh larger brother!
Giant of our time!
You expand, back, front, side to side.
Waxing ever greater, ever wide.

Oh larger brother!
Beast of great burden - save when it hurts your back,
hauling kegs and cases home - whatever you lack.
Tap them, pop them,
Drink them, quaff them.

Oh larger brother!
Once you sheltered in my shadow,
now in yours I cower below.
You blot out the sun,
spreading shade from which no one can run.

Oh larger brother!
With booming voice and balding pate.
Friends ask "Is that your big brother?" and I say "yay".
May you always be greater, larger, more.
May I always be the "little" bro that you adore.

Oh larger brother!
On your fifty second year of birth.
At fifty four I marvel at your girth.
Thank you brother, for being so large.
I couldn't have bettered it had I been in charge.


I was rambling around the local strip shopping center when a came upon a Karate studio. Actually I'm not sure if it was Karate, Tae Kwan Do, Ninja Masters or whatever, but you get the picture.  It's the sort of place where the bullied are supposed to go to get the mojo to bully their bullies like they do in all the movies. Although I've never seen it work that way in real life, probably because the bullies get to these places first.  It has always seemed to me that taking fencing or an NRA marksmanship course would be a better approach to making bullies scarce.  Although applying what you've learned in those courses would to tend to attract the police.  Life is full of trade offs.

So like I said, I was walking by this joint early in the morning and the Sensei or the apprentice to the Sensei was washing the inside windows in preparation for the wimps du jour. And me being me I simply could not resist.  I stopped, rapped the window to get his attention and in my best Karate Kid went with my right hand "wax on" and then with my left hand "wax off".The Sensei - having no idea what I was doing smiled and waved at me. "No!" I said urgently, "wax on, wax off!" which perplexed him, so he went back to his washing.  I rapped again and gesticulated more aggressively "I said wax on, wax off!".  At that he turned around and walked off into the back of the store. I think he may have misunderstood what I was telling him to do as he ended up going into the toilet and closing the door.

But it's obvious that this joint is not run by legitimate Karate experts nor aficionados of late 1980s youth cinema.  Fakers.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Julia Child Calling

So I was beavering away at something particularly unproductive when I got a call from mom at the HEB, "car won't start, popsicles melting". Needless to say, confronted by such pathos (save the popsicles!) I hightailed it over there pronto.

Anyway after transferring Mom and her groceries to my car, I dialed AAA. Got a sweet young thing on the phone. No, seriously, she really was a thing: a computer and she couldn't have been more than six months old. So as is the custom among our cyborg helpers, I entered this number and pressed that pound sign and yessed and noed a bit and voila! I got a real person who sounded neither sweet nor young and of course immediately gave me the third degree: "so who's car is this anyway?"
"my mom's, I'm her wonderful son who is helping her out", bracing myself for the well earned praise.
"Who's on the title?"
"I suppose my mom"
"Well sir I'm sorry but until she calls and tells us she needs help, we can't help her"
"But I know she needs help"
"And she knows she needs help"
"And I just told you she needs help so you know she needs help"
"Yes but she has to tell us herself or we can't help"
"You mean you won't"
"You won't help even though you could"
"Umm well we can't"
"No, can't"
"Won't, won't, won't"
And that's when she hung up.

Well if you're a regular reader you know that I was 'fit to be tied' which in my case means that I was stomping an imaginary AAA headquarters filled with little imaginary AAA ants as I flailed my arms and foamed like a rabid Irish Setter (they have good hair don't they). I was all set to call back and pretend I was my Dad who was upset because the delay in helping mom had led to the death of that Irish Setter but I decided "why should I play their game?" So instead of lying that I was my Dad I called them back as Betty Jean Savage Reeves. And boy was I savage. Affecting my best Julia Child Locust Valley Lockjaw with her patented combination of ribald condescension and aplomb I conducted a 'Tour de Force' of how dare you's and well I nevers. It was quite fun although I did it in the produce section which caused several grocery patrons to nervously edge away from me.

And this is where I had a bit of an epiphany: up until this point I had always given a hearty 'tchah' to anyone who tried to tell me that anything as central as gender (which just means sex but the dull boy OR girl kind as opposed to the fun boy AND girl kind) could be "socially constructed" which as I understand modern college speak means " made up". Because I think I could seriously pull off the Julia Child thing. After all I like to cook, have a great snotty accent in the higher register and I clearly make a profoundly ugly woman so all I really need are a few mid 20th century frocks, some sensible shoes, a boatload of makeup and Food Network here I come.

I think Big Food could use a cross dressing retro food program where a faux Julia Child. (Moi) socially cuts, dresses down, mocks and otherwise humiliates all the celebrity chefs on TV. I would particularly enjoy making that obnoxious Englishman (you know, the one with dyed hair that's always making all the other cooks cry) snivel and sob about how his mother never loved him or his Creme Brulee.

So if this Silicon Valley gig doesn't work out I've always got that going for me.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

I have a daughter and I forgot her birthday

I have a daughter and I forgot her birthday.  I remember her first one, couldn't forget that.  She came so quickly, I hardly had time to get settled for what I thought would be a long haul and she was there. So insistent, so present, so there.  When we took her home I spent the first night with her so her mother could sleep. On the family room floor next to her, listening to her soft rapid breathing, every couple hours she'd wake and cry and I'd take her to her mother to nurse.  Then back on the floor. With me.  Just me and my only daughter.  And I forgot her birthday.

I remember her growing up, she would get her words mixed up, saying "callipeter" and "beltseat". She had an electric smile that lit up the room, with gleaming eyes under a pageboy haircut.  Like me she was small with dark hair over fair skin - a bundle of energy and joy.  She would go out to the swing set and sing her favorite song from The Little Mermaid at the top of her lungs.  Of course she was the Mermaid. I would listen to my daughter sing and marvel that she was mine.  And I forgot her birthday.

She had a tough streak:  she had to because she had a big, no BIG brother three years older who went where he would, including into her her room, her things, her space.  We had a rule that Amelia could hit Sam but Sam couldn't hit her.  A rule to his credit he honored.  And Amelia needed all the help she could get simply to keep the big lug from straying to deeply into her precious things, we would hear her shouts of rage and whack whack whacks as he nonchalantly proceeded, almost oblivious to her.  I loved her intensity and prayed that she would keep it her whole life.  I have a daughter and I forgot her birthday.

She and Sam grew to be friends.  We would go to our beach house in Michigan for two  weeks every year and their mother would fret and plan for ways to keep them occupied on the eight hour drive, cleverly devising games and gifts and other fun.  But in the end they entertained each other, communicating in the way that brothers and sisters always do.  I will always remember my son teaching his sis' some important details of of life:  "Hey Ameeeeelia (he always stretched the e, dunno why) do  you know what the "S" word is?"....."no...what?"..."Shut up".  And a few minutes later: "Hey Ameeeeelia, do you know what the F word is?"....."no...what?" ...."Fart".  I almost drove off the road, laughing so hard at my son and my daughter.  And I forgot her birthday.

Amelia was a risk taker in a way that I or Sam or her mother never were.  One day I was working in my office on the third floor in our house which stood on the slope of the hill.  In front of it, further down the slope was a  young white pine tree, four stories high, its top reaching my third floor window.  That windy spring day I was busily beavering away at something and I heard her voice "Hey Dad! Look Here!" It was Amelia, clinging to the highest part of the trunk in the swaying breeze. The last time I left what had been our house I looked up the white pine and there were seats and jump ropes and other things that she had put up there for her and her friends. And I forgot her birthday.

I remember one time I was working outside on something and she was riding her bike. She had just learned - Sam had taught her - he loved her even has he vexed her mightily.  She was driving around the house on the garden paths in her bare feet.  By the neighbor's standards we were "bad parents" because we let our children "run wild". Not really - but we gave them the freedom that our parents ha given us and were willing to take the risks that our choice presented.  Including the risk of a barefoot young girl riding too close to the extra slate roof tiles and slicing her foot open.  She cried so hard that she couldn't breathe - her intensity again - I almost cried with her but soon she calmed down and we dressed the wound and went up the family room where she got a popsicle and I a margarita and we watched Sponge Bob Squarepants together.  Not my favorite but at the time one of my daughter's.  And I forgot her birthday.

As time passed. my situation became more troubled and our marriage more desperate, I didn't spend as much time with Amelia.  I was travelling overseas often and obsessed with making money that I needed to maintain our lifestyle.  She didn't punish me for my lack of attention, continuing to treat me much as she always had.  She was such a beautiful girl and I was so grateful for her.  And I forgot her birthday.

Then there was the day that we told the kids that I was moving out.  That our marriage was at its end and that there was no chance of reconciliation  My wife began the tale of woe and I finished, breaking into tears towards the end.  My son and daughter jumped up and embraced me, the three of us crying together, Amelia's hot tears on my neck.  And I forgot her birthday.

I realized that my daughter was no longer a girl some time later.  I had a partner who had a huge, wonderful yacht and he graciously invited Amelia to have her fifteenth birthday party on it.  She brought seven or eight friends and I was amazed how she had become a beautiful young woman.  While Sam spent most of the time driving the boat (those of you that know him know what I'm talking about) I spent most of my time watching her.  Her poise and grace.  How she carried herself, how she was so very beautiful.  My daughter.  And I forgot her birthday.

I was with her five short days before she turned nineteen two days ago but that fact never once registered in my mind.  You see after a period of frustration, things are going well for me again - I have a new business and was dating a woman for the first time since my marriage failed. In many respects was in as good a shape as I had been for a decade.  I was so happy - and to be be with both my kids at Lake of the Ozarks at my friend Debra's was a double treat.  I was so full of myself that despite being with my daughter I forgot her birthday.  I know I'm selfish, I know I'm weak but I didn't realize that I was so selfish and weak that I would forget her.  But I did.  She of course forgave me but that did not and can not change the fact that I have a daughter and I forgot her birthday.

The only thing I can say, Amelia is that I'm sorry and that I love you and that I am so very proud that I have a daughter and that she is you.

For I have a daughter and I forgot her birthday.