Dave Friant Articles

A FEW COMING OF AGE RECOLLECTIONS

October/November 2020

Mine were smack in the middle of the 1960’s.  Exploratory teenage years when ascension from being just a kid into at least a share of junior manhood made for some curious times.  Occasions when unorthodox pursuits of females were undertaken and usually misread by the intended recipients.  Simply put, unrequited love (or at least substantial interest) was par for my course at 15 years of age as I searched for that certain special someone.

      
For the most part, mine was a life as an only child.  No siblings with whom to compare notes.  Total commitment to a child by a set of parents who felt I’d be the only result of production efforts.  God intervened again in 1966 and presto. . . my biological sister Kathy Jo became the next addition to the Friant household.


By no one’s rational thought was I anything to write home about.  “Chunky” was the word used by Aunt Marion to describe my appearance.  Athletic?  Yes.  Involvement in a variety of sandlot games in the neighborhood took up most of my leisure time.  Handsome?  By no stretch of anyone’s imagination.  Acne had taken up what was thought to be permanent residency during the latter stages of my 14th year.  My hair was oily and generally unkempt.  


But it was time to get on with this new segment of life, no matter the realities staring back at me from the full-sized mirror in our one and only bathroom.  Give it a shot.  Recalled was the expression, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” mentioned often by mom’s Uncle Joe when discussing the need for a positive attitude in undertakings.  


Being told about the “birds and the bees” was much too embarrassing of an assignment for my dad.  He was a quiet and generally unassuming man.  Even with the Woodstock phenomenon and “Make Love Not War” slogans available to aid his efforts, I was on my own to deal with all the realities of handling the entire coming of age portion of life.  Filterless understandings were left to be accomplished from interactions with peers and the occasional peek at Playboy magazines stored under Uncle Louie’s lounge chair.    


Candidates for girlfriend relationships were nearly non-existent in my hometown of Haleyville, a small southern New Jersey town with a population at the time of 250 or so.  Barbara Nichols and Nora Robbins, two of the only four girls in my entire 7th grade class of 18, were arguably the only hometowners worthy of anything close to a second look.  Barbara tipped the subjective cuteness scales in a favorable way, but was the offspring of a notorious petty thief father whose ties to local mob figures made any idea of a love connection tentative at best.  Nora was an average-looking bookworm, absolutely brilliant academically.  But the prospect of having the school scholar as a girlfriend and dealing with her emotional tirades over getting an occasional “B” was not in the cards.    


My best friend was Bobby Estell.  He was a year younger, but generally regarded as the area’s most renown male in puberty-probing matters.  Taller and in better shape than his classmates, “Big B” easily handled the jargon associated with this venture into the unknown and was overwhelmingly the choice of slightly older females who had established early womanhood residency.   His two older brothers had taught him a thing or two about teenage sexual identity matters.  The two of us discussed on a regular basis what we were certain were the finer aspects of early adulthood.  The explorations were for the most part imaginary due to the “cupboard is bare” assessment of possibilities in our neck of the woods.


Then it happened.  The move by the Roy Shepard family into the 2-story vacant home five doors away from ours.  It was an absolute act of God not expected at this point in my life.  Of utmost interest to me was 15-year-old Kathryn Anne, the eldest of the three Shepard children.  She was attractive with   waist-long curly brown hair and exhibited an upbeat approach to life from our initial contact at the local church youth group.  For the time-being, the realities of my less-than-stellar physical attributes were tossed aside.  I was optimistic that she would be at least slightly impressed with my developing sense of humor or athletic abilities.  Within my mind more than a glimmer of hope arose.  A “no, not him” response to my net being tossed out for consideration of something special was not likely to occur.  

My heart had been sufficiently tantalized with “the look” she had given me during our initial encounter at church.  No reason to suspect a misread or that such an expression was a tease.  It was enough to warrant adequate footing in the no holds barred challenge.


Relax Celebration Magazine readers!  The impact of anxiety during these troubled times can be devastating to us all and to those who love us.  Reflections of selected favorable occurrences during growing up years can be therapeutic.  We’ve all experienced such matters in our lives from which recalls can put smiles on our faces.

 
This column contains excerpts and modifications from my soon-to-be-published short story “Expectant Dribbling.” Please send comments, favorable or otherwise, to dave.friant@att.net.      

Handling The Transition...The Latter Years

June/July 2020

It’s the ultimate journey for guys.  The passage of years from adolescence into that maze of existence known as full-fledged senior adulthood.   The challenges and realities of being productive males are for the most part still recallable.  From parenting rugrats and making inroads into a solid marital relationship to searching for a suitable time to grab hold of the retirement reins, it’s not for the faint of heart.     


Btw. . .  this is not an opinion piece on the currently popular transitioning process associated with changing one’s gender identity.  Much too controversial of a subject to address in a publication designed to applaud the marvels of being a golden-ager.  In the vernacular of the millennials, I was born a dude and continue to be satisfied with all the unique wirings that accompany such a designation.  God decided to go that route for me, and never have I been more appreciative.  

   
I digress. 


Pour a cup of Joe.  Relax in the form-fitting and tattered leather Laz-E-Boy.  Bust out into at least a grin as I reference a few key happenings over my last couple of years with some on-going adjustment maneuverings. 


Been recently thinking about some concerns associated with my current rung on the age ladder.  Nothing unmanageable.  They’re fortunately able to be answered with a decent helping of resolve.  Seems I’ve floored it head-on into the experiences of that supposed milestone age of 70 without sufficient warning of the inevitabilities that tag along.  I’m 69 years of age.  To many of you, it’s a “still a young pup” marker on the wheel of life.  I understand.  It’s all relative.  


This entrance ramp to the final stretch (however long it may be) presents different challenges to those of us not known to be the fairer sex.  Our gearing mechanisms are so dissimilar to those of the ladies who remain as the principal rudders in our lives.  We react differently to “social stimuli” and other areas of interactions for which volumes of research has been gathered.  While interesting, it’s another topic for another day.     


After 40 years of public service with State and Federal government employment, I decided to toss in the towel and retire at 60.  The pension pursuit had become exhaustive.  It was time to test the waters of still another leg of the empty nesting phenomenon.  Still just the two of us.  That had been the case since the youngest of our children headed off to college in the mid-90’s.  But now, several more hours together on any given day based on the Mrs. also deciding to “take her job and shove it.”  Desired was the devoting of more time to mutual delights; taking part in activities that were only discussion topics during earlier years. 


A few come to mind.  Traveling to parts of the country and/or world with few time demands for scheduled returns.  Presence on more of a regular basis at activities involving the grand-kiddos.  Establishing at least a twice-a-week routine, between 3 and 5 in the afternoon, as our new “lupper” time to grab a meal at different eating establishments.     


 My health was in reasonably good shape when I decided to call it quits professionally.  High blood pressure medication and the once-a-year visit with a neurologist for a 1996 seizure was the extent of medical malfunctioning.  Participation in league tennis and umpiring slo-pitch softball were my principal exercise highlights.  I was still able to maneuver (albeit at a less rambunctious manner) on the ski slopes.  It was a naïve notion of invincibility.      


Mine appeared to be a look the other way approach to health issues involving “older folks.”  My peers were in the midst of developing ailments ranging in severity from arthritis to inoperative cancer.  I was to the point of creating a forever buoyant approach to the expected final couple of decades.  I’d dodged some bullets that are supposedly a part of this age.  My parents both died in their mid-70’s, but I had read once that genetics was not necessarily destiny.  


Then it happened.  The shock with no evidence of absorbers being still fully operational for relief.  Firing on one less cylinder.  Over a period of 18 months or so (up thru March of this year), the demons of health irregularities entered the scene with a vengeance.  From spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis to atrial fibrillation and other specialist-required ailments. What I mistakenly believed was a dungeon for the duration of the ride had been reached.     


It’s been a time of reflection while moving on with these diagnoses.  I’m in the midst of untangling the realities; comparing my relatively minor medical slowdowns in activities to the larger and more significant matters in life.  Trying to remain on the adjusted course with positivity and enthusiasm is by no stretch an easy effort.  I know it’s cliché, but accenting the plusses experienced over the years while living each day to the fullest is therapeutic.  The nature of the veers and bumps on the path have changed.  An ache here, a pain there.  All things considered, not that big of a deal.  We’ve still got pulses.   

Navigating Through The Trenches 

April/May 2020

It began as an eagerness to meet folks close to his age with the goal of relationship-building.  Needed was more than a “silent generation” website where poor outcomes and mysterious bank account withdrawals is much too common.  Yearned for was an avenue where discussions of common interest topics for “senior adults” and pursuit of activity opportunities was available.  


All of the boxes were checked when events and travel possibilities available through Celebration Magazine became known to John Mitchell.  He recently returned from an enjoyable cruise trip to Key West and is intent on becoming a regular attender at various Celebration gatherings.


Still formidable as a military veteran and former Division 1 college football player, 80-year-old Mitchell retains an earlier in life vice-like handshake.  His intensity regarding the value of team sports and pride of country is a blend worthy of emulation.  He delights in the sharing of noteworthy aspects of his family, prior military and employment endeavors, and his Ole Miss college football years.


Mitchell became a widower on January 3, 2015, after 36 years of marriage to Shery Mitchell.  She succumbed to the devastating impacts of cancer after two-plus years of continuous in-house care by the man who references her in so many positive ways.  


“We very early on became ‘soul mates’ after first meeting one another.  We thought alike and enjoyed a great marriage.  Family is and has always been of utmost importance to me,” says Mitchell.  He has two sons (James and John) from a prior marriage.  He resides in Rockwall with four generations of family and a Labrador Retriever named “Mongo.”   


Mitchell is originally from Mississippi and attended high school and college in the Magnolia state.  Participation in sports was a significant part of his early years.  His father was the biggest influence in his athletic endeavors and emphasized honesty as the key to a sound existence.
 Mitchell played football at Winona High School; mixing blood and dirt on Friday nights as both an offensive and defensive tackle.  He received a “full-ride” scholarship to Ole Miss.  The team during his three years of varsity play for the college squad finished 29-3-1 between 1959 and 1961.  They were Co-National Champions in 1959 and 1960.   Mitchell was drafted in 1962 by the San Diego Chargers of the former American Football League (AFL), but never participated in the Sunday afternoon battles professionally.                                                                                                                         
Mitchell graduated from Ole Miss in 1961 and earned a Bachelor of Science in Public Administration.  He became an Army commissioned officer in 1961 and began Law School in 1962.  Studies were never completed as a result of his student deferment not being extended.  Mitchell returned to post-graduate college coursework in 1973 and earned a Master of Science in Business Administration.  


Mitchell served over six years in the Army; five being active duty throughout the world in both the infantry and military intelligence.  He was in Vietnam from 1966-1967.  Numerous are the pins and ribbons Mitchell earned during his time in the service.   He sustained damage to his right leg from shrapnel during the conflict and walks with a cane. 


“I enjoyed leadership roles in my life prior to the military, but never had assumed positions of trust which impacted so many people,” says Mitchell.  “I became a Unit Commander.  It changed me from being a free-spirited guy to one who matured into a more serious and considerate person,” continues Mitchell.  


Mitchell additionally expanded his life experiences through working as a page for both the United States Congress and for the State of Mississippi.  Continued during these periods was a look at life from another set of trenches.  


Mitchell’s post-military employment included an array of systems development and marketing undertakings for a number of companies.  He maintained residences in a variety of areas nationwide throughout his employment years when he was involved in “climbing the corporate ladder.”  Mitchell retired in 2004 from Neiman Marcus.  He worked 10 years for the company and departed as Vice President of Systems Development.


The retirement years for Mitchell has involved a myriad of activities.  He remains active in both the VFW and American Legion.  Hobbies include coin-collecting and stained glass productions where he teaches classes in the art.   Maintained twice-a-week is phone and/or text contact with fellow Ole Miss teammate Charlie “Bear” Ferrell.   With rare exceptions, this has been the case since their football playing days. 
“Cherish the things that have been enjoyable in your life.  Look forward with anticipation to the future with the idea that what you’ve left behind has made a difference,” says Mitchell.    


His is a perspective that seems to elude many during these times of uncertainty.  Mitchell’s “be the best you can be” approach with the trenches we all face at times is refreshing. •       

Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way

February/March 2020

“There are millions of people out there ignoring disabilities and accomplishing incredible feats.  I learned you can learn to do things differently, but do them just as well.  Never allow the circumstances of your life to become an excuse.“ - Jim Abbott *


William “Will” Syner has been a Texan for the entirety of his 63 years of life.  Born in El Paso, he is currently a single divorcee residing in Keller.  Syner retired in 2015 as an A & P Mechanic for American Airlines.  


Bowling has been an off and on part of Syner’s recreational life since his early teenage years.  It’s a sport where focused attention to technique and comradery with teammates and opponents makes for enjoyable outings.  Above average in terms of skill level, he became a competitive league bowler in 2011 within the western part of the Metroplex.  


In early January 2019, Syner encountered a medical situation that has since changed his life.  What appeared initially to be a harmless foot injury from stepping on a carpet tack turned into a wound that failed to heal properly.  A vascular doctor was called in and diagnosed the case as a severe circulatory condition known as Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD).   Two weeks after an unsuccessful artery surgery, Will received the news that amputation of his right leg three inches above his knee was necessary.  The surgery took place on May 19.   


Okay.  Now what?  Quality of life issues suddenly become front and center.  Might all the favorable aspects of his existence come screeching to a grinding halt and become merely rearview mirror recollections?   Would dependence on whoever steps up to the plate for assistance provision be the order of the day for the foreseeable future?


Periods of hopelessness to varying degrees is always a part of limb removal recoveries.  It is to be expected.  Syner recalls an occasion when he looked under the hospital bed covers at the bandaged area which was once his leg.  He did shed some tears, but the affirmative manner in which he handled the amputation was “beyond belief” as described by one of the attending nurses.  The doctors and rehabilitation personnel emphasize the impact of a positive attitude.  Syner has adopted that approach.


Syner is content to move on with this new chapter.   “I can’t see being mad at God or anyone else.  I ask God for help every night.  I’ve always been a glass half full guy.  You can cry about your situation or get up and make the best of it,” says Syner.  


An overwhelming amount of support and assistance from friends, neighbors, and fellow bowlers has served as a remedy for the gloom that accompanied the devastating news.   Folks have pitched in with tangible acts of helpfulness.  “I’m amazed at the kindness that comes about during difficult times.  Those feelings are already there, and become active when situations call for it,” says Syner.  Major help with the installation of an access ramp at his apartment and a sit-down shower top the list. 


Ann Dronen has been the single-most supportive “other” in his life since the amputation.  She has known Syner through bowling for three years and provided transportation to doctor appointments and rehabilitation sessions during the spring and summer.  Dronen is amazed when reflecting on how Syner has handled the matter of having a leg removed.  “He had an ‘it has to be done, let’s get it over with’ approach to the matter.  Since the operation, I have rarely seen him without a smile,’’ says Dronen.     


Bowling upon his return to the lanes in August has been via a wheelchair.  At the time of this writing, Syner anticipates a return to “regular” bowling in February with his prosthetic leg.  He is currently   competing in three leagues; wheeling himself to the foul line with ball-in-hand and carefully attempting to roll it with some degree of accuracy.   With the aid of a local professional bowler/instructor, Will has been the recipient of a few tips on this variation to standard bowling.  The average is understandably down from his pre-surgery days, but progress is being made.   He recalls an occasion during the summer when a youngster came up to him while he was bowling and mentioned how inspirational it was to watch him bowl.  “I’m so glad that my situation can help people,” says Will.     


Medical realities in life which on occasion present themselves with little or no warning are unquestionably challenges.  There seems to be scarcely enough time to harness the resolve necessary to get on with life.  Some folks are unable to find hope or the spiritual resources necessary to rebound from the obstacles thrown their way.  Others rise to the occasions with renewed strength and approaches to their new seasons in life.                      


Will Syner is a committed participant in the latter category. 


*Abbott is a former professional baseball player who pitched as a “lefty” with several major league teams during his 10-year career.  He overcame the disability of a missing right hand at birth and currently travels the country as a motivational speaker. • 

Do You REALLY Wanna Know?

December 2019/January 2020

Christmas letters. Possibly venturing out on thin ice here regarding my thoughts on these life updates received during the holiday season.   With few exceptions, the task of reading these ventures into the land of loftiness lines up just behind (pun intended) colonoscopy prep nights.  They seem to arrive most often from the rare contact extended family member or out-of-town friend; the ones who seem to take delight in drenching the readers with the favorable elements of their lives.  The boastings more often than not have become tireless reads year after year.      


Sara Beth began ninth grade this year and continues to master junior college coursework (nothing below an “A” since the start of the first Obama Administration) in anticipation of securing that expected full-ride to Harvard.   She combined her academic achievements with recognized volunteer work at the Adams County Animal Shelter and athletic honors for being the junior varsity soccer goalie-of-the-year for Seward ISD.


Uncle Jesse secured a Silver Medal in the annual New England Regional IRONMAN competition and has again been cited by his board of directors as Hospital Administrator of the Year.    


Betsy, my best friend and wife of 42 years, has again for 2019 been named Outstanding Neighbor of the Year by our local HOA.   Additionally, she was a finalist in our church’s Alto of the Year competition.


Now isn’t that just soooooo special?    


The visions of excellence are usually accompanied by cheesy and bulk-purchased Christmas cards, with the festive stamped-on sender names appearing below the greeting.  Any hint of a personal message or inquiry about the lives of the readers?  Rarely.  Too many to prepare and not enough time during this special but hectic time of the year.     


Desired to be pored over are the happenings of life common to us all.  The highlights and the concerns.  These are the holiday readings worthy of more than just a glance.         


If my bride and I saw fit to share the state of our union through a Christmas Letter, humor would have top billing.  No efforts to conceal the cracks and crevices.  We’re in the midst of continuing to settle in and find our way during this new season of life.  All rosy?  Hardly.  A worthwhile pursuit?  Definitely!


Here would be a portion of our only partially caricaturized reality:  
We find ourselves in only marginal health these days.  Doc says a hip replacement for the Mrs. and my two bad knees need to be addressed soon.  The diagnoses keep us from our 20-minute “intensive” twice weekly workouts at the YMCA.  


Our overly anxious 8-year-old Aussie seems to be calmer these days, given the appropriate dosages of “doggie downers.”  While innovative, her findings of new and not-so-remote areas of the house for emergency urinations have been troublesome for us both.


Six months of “I’m Not That Talented Anymore, But It’s OK” therapy associated with leisure sports proficiency seems to be paying off for me.  Tantrums on the golf course and at the bowling alley are becoming rare these days.  


Life for the maintainer of order in our home continues to be puzzling after her retirement as an Ophthalmic Assistant.  To combat her loss of professional identity, she can be seen roaming the common areas at shopping malls seeking candidates for free eye chart reading evaluations. 
Thirty years of home mortgage payments have recently been completed, and evaluations of quotes for major foundation repairs are underway. 
Sweet tea consumption continues to result in elevated pre-diabetic readings.  Polishing off cheese and crackers just before bedtime remains the suspected culprit of our clogged arteries.  


We travel when schedules and money allow us to do so, enjoy going to “picture shows” a few times per month, and chow down weekly at eating establishments on “date nights.”  Our bucket list is reasonable and we enjoy crossing off completed undertakings.  Availability for the needs of our children and grandkiddos remains a priority.  Continuing efforts are underway to draw closer to folks our age.  We view connectedness as crucial during these days when matters of worth and pertinence are being questioned. 


Happy sharing of Aunt Mildred’s fruitcake.  Keep in touch.


Glad tidings to all!

Fortunate Vantage Point

October/November 2019

The term fandom as defined in most dictionaries includes such terms as “extreme passion,” “collective enthusiasm,” and “obsession.” For reasons detailed later within this piece, I fall within that pack of over-the-toppers. 


It was Wednesday, May 4, 2019. Game 4 of a pivotal National Hockey League (NHL) 2nd round home playoff match-up between the Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues. Down two games to one in the best-of-seven series, it was for all intents and purposes a must win for the guys in the green. 

forecast of probable severe thunderstorms was predicted for Big D. Not a major deal for ticketed fans. I was fortunate to have been in that category of supporters within the American Airlines Center (AAC) for Game 3 two nights earlier. It was a 4-3 loss, but the excitement of playoff hockey where players ratchet up to an extra notch all aspects of their game demanded my continued allegiance. 


Plans were to again find my way to the AAC, hunker down in a lawn chair with a controversial Philadelphia Eagles umbrella in hand, and watch the game outside on the Victory Plaza Jumbotron.  These were the playoffs. Time to expend extraordinary efforts to rally the troops.
Allllll-righty now. The dilemma. Head to the Watch Party and confirm my supporter extraordinaire status in a probable torrential downpour? Take the advice of my rudder-adjusting spouse of 46 years and watch the televised contest at home from a comfortable piece of furniture designed for INDOOR use?


Yep. . . you guessed it. The mania for all things Stars hockey trumped rational thought by a substantial margin. Not a shock to those who know me. Exploring alternative routes contrary to routine and safe behavior became commonplace many years back. Packed up the Jeep Wrangler and headed east from Fort Worth. 


Pre-game conditions were delightful with slight winds and only the infrequent passing dark cloud. Festivities included listening to the on-the-plaza band, watching the kiddos play street hockey, and entertaining expectations of tying the series before a return to St. Louis. Not dampened was the enthusiasm of attendees, especially those who would later view the game from in-house seats. 


I befriended two fans (Sam Rooney and Jeff Simons) prior to game time. Both had chairs, but neither had sufficient resources to deal with the anticipated deluge. Yes, I did pack up the chair and head to drier surroundings during the occasional excessive downpours. But for the most part, I was primarily alone in the rain on the Plaza pavement and watching the Stars discolor the Blues with a 4-2 victory.


As part of an effort to monitor firsthand the weather conditions, WFAA-Channel 8 meteorologist Jesse Hawila made his way out of the studio with only a few minutes left in the game. From a distance, he snapped a picture of who would later be described as the “lonely and dedicated Stars fan.” 


Who was this guy? 


An effort through social media was undertaken to make a positive ID. The request went viral. Shared with several fellow co-volunteers and H-E-B Hospital staff the next day were details about what many viewed as absolute buffoonery on my part. Through the graciousness of a Twitter-following Admissions Specialist, my identity and phone number was provided to a news source and the inquiring minds of Stars management. 


Defined as a “human interest story,” my temporary ascension into the world of celebrity began Friday morning. Contact was initially made by WFAA reporter Alex Rozier. Individuals and entities jumped aboard. From interviews by the four local television stations to a newspaper article by Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, my “fifteen minutes of fame” referenced by Andy Warhol years ago became a reality over the next several days. My spouse and I were additionally the beneficiaries of two complimentary tickets and a Cessna aircraft ride to St. Louis for Game 5.  The provider was a gracious sports fan/pilot who saw fit to add some major dimensions and miles to the festivities. The Stars organization went top-shelf with complimentary favorite player jerseys and Game 6 tickets, a post-game interview with Brien Rea and former Star Brent Severyn, and a meal for the two of us.  


This excursion into the land of favorable existence was simply a case of being at the right place at the right time. Even though hidden in the midst of thunderous clouds, the other group of stars were all aligned perfectly during that early May evening. 


Worthy of all the hoopla? Jury may still be out for some. It was a surreal and joyful happening that hopefully put some smiles on the faces of at least a few during these trying times.  Nothing close to some heroic act of courage or measure of helpfulness to others during a time of need. Simply an older man expressing outdoor allegiance to a sports team under very questionable weather conditions.•

Still At It. . . Competing Between The White Lines

August/September 2019

The term fandom as defined in most dictionaries includes such terms as “extreme passion,” “collective enthusiasm,” and “obsession.” For reasons detailed later within this piece, I fall within that pack of over-the-toppers. 


It was Wednesday, May 4, 2019. Game 4 of a pivotal National Hockey League (NHL) 2nd round home playoff match-up between the Dallas Stars and the St. Louis Blues. Down two games to one in the best-of-seven series, it was for all intents and purposes a must win for the guys in the green. 

forecast of probable severe thunderstorms was predicted for Big D. Not a major deal for ticketed fans. I was fortunate to have been in that category of supporters within the American Airlines Center (AAC) for Game 3 two nights earlier. It was a 4-3 loss, but the excitement of playoff hockey where players ratchet up to an extra notch all aspects of their game demanded my continued allegiance. 


Plans were to again find my way to the AAC, hunker down in a lawn chair with a controversial Philadelphia Eagles umbrella in hand, and watch the game outside on the Victory Plaza Jumbotron.  These were the playoffs. Time to expend extraordinary efforts to rally the troops.
Allllll-righty now. The dilemma. Head to the Watch Party and confirm my supporter extraordinaire status in a probable torrential downpour? Take the advice of my rudder-adjusting spouse of 46 years and watch the televised contest at home from a comfortable piece of furniture designed for INDOOR use?


Yep. . . you guessed it. The mania for all things Stars hockey trumped rational thought by a substantial margin. Not a shock to those who know me. Exploring alternative routes contrary to routine and safe behavior became commonplace many years back. Packed up the Jeep Wrangler and headed east from Fort Worth. 


Pre-game conditions were delightful with slight winds and only the infrequent passing dark cloud. Festivities included listening to the on-the-plaza band, watching the kiddos play street hockey, and entertaining expectations of tying the series before a return to St. Louis. Not dampened was the enthusiasm of attendees, especially those who would later view the game from in-house seats. 


I befriended two fans (Sam Rooney and Jeff Simons) prior to game time. Both had chairs, but neither had sufficient resources to deal with the anticipated deluge. Yes, I did pack up the chair and head to drier surroundings during the occasional excessive downpours. But for the most part, I was primarily alone in the rain on the Plaza pavement and watching the Stars discolor the Blues with a 4-2 victory.


As part of an effort to monitor firsthand the weather conditions, WFAA-Channel 8 meteorologist Jesse Hawila made his way out of the studio with only a few minutes left in the game. From a distance, he snapped a picture of who would later be described as the “lonely and dedicated Stars fan.” 


Who was this guy? 


An effort through social media was undertaken to make a positive ID. The request went viral. Shared with several fellow co-volunteers and H-E-B Hospital staff the next day were details about what many viewed as absolute buffoonery on my part. Through the graciousness of a Twitter-following Admissions Specialist, my identity and phone number was provided to a news source and the inquiring minds of Stars management. 


Defined as a “human interest story,” my temporary ascension into the world of celebrity began Friday morning. Contact was initially made by WFAA reporter Alex Rozier. Individuals and entities jumped aboard. From interviews by the four local television stations to a newspaper article by Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, my “fifteen minutes of fame” referenced by Andy Warhol years ago became a reality over the next several days. My spouse and I were additionally the beneficiaries of two complimentary tickets and a Cessna aircraft ride to St. Louis for Game 5.  The provider was a gracious sports fan/pilot who saw fit to add some major dimensions and miles to the festivities. The Stars organization went top-shelf with complimentary favorite player jerseys and Game 6 tickets, a post-game interview with Brien Rea and former Star Brent Severyn, and a meal for the two of us.  


This excursion into the land of favorable existence was simply a case of being at the right place at the right time. Even though hidden in the midst of thunderous clouds, the other group of stars were all aligned perfectly during that early May evening. 


Worthy of all the hoopla? Jury may still be out for some. It was a surreal and joyful happening that hopefully put some smiles on the faces of at least a few during these trying times.  Nothing close to some heroic act of courage or measure of helpfulness to others during a time of need. Simply an older man expressing outdoor allegiance to a sports team under very questionable weather conditions.•

Fortunately For Us All... They Can Still Be Found

June/July 2019

He’s not another of the Gibbs brothers who through the Bee Gees in the 1970’s provided us oldsters with some smooth sounds.  We sang along and on occasion gyrated with some attempted John Travolta dance floor maneuverings. . . moves which would leave most of us in traction if we took a crack at ‘em these days.    


No, it’s Allan Gibbs; the 74-year-old Tarrant County retiree whose volunteerism in a variety of capacities  benefit us all.  For starters, Gibbs has since 2011 been involved in the St. Michael Catholic Church hospital ministry.  He serves communion once-a-week to anywhere from five to twenty patients at Texas Health Hurst-Euless- Bedford (HEB) Hospital.  “I take the role of a ‘soul doctor’ and interact with patients who are often nervous about their medical predicament.  They are glad to spend time with somebody who listens and cares.  We often just talk for ten to fifteen minutes,” says Gibbs.  He views his role as a morale builder during the difficult times associated with hospitalization.       
Additionally, Gibbs has since 2017 volunteered once-a-week within the Emergency Room at the HEB Hospital.  He takes patients to treatment rooms and handles significant amounts of the logistics not associated with medical interventions. “I make the effort to free-up the time for the professionals to do their jobs.  I try to talk to and engage the patients when possible and encourage them.  You get a good feeling when helping people in difficult situations,” says Gibbs. 


Providing services to shut-ins through Meals on Wheels is still another interaction with others in which Gibbs is involved.  Since 2009, he has worked routes in the Bedford area of the metroplex and typically has upwards of 22 stops four times a month.    
Okay.  That should do it.  Simply not enough time for other involvements of any kind during what’s left of his spare time.  
Wrong! 


Gibbs has visited Central America four times and Cuba twice.  He met his “sweetheart” (Penny) in 2017 on a blind date through a Veteran’s benefit.   The two are special companions and enjoy their times together.  Gibbs is additionally a working Rotarian and an active volunteer with the Euless Library Foundation.


Gibbs was married for 38 years prior to his spouse’s death in 2005.  The two parented a son who currently resides in Mesa, Arizona. 
Gibbs retired in 2008 from the Boy Scouts of America after 38 years of service.  His involvement went well beyond perfecting slip-knot techniques for curious cubbies and bonfire preparations during rainy conditions.  Gibbs was a professional scouter; one who understood his role in favorably impacting youth with the solid principles of God, country, and assisting with the needs of others.  At the point of his departure, he had held for eight years the position of Associate National Director of National Events.  He ended his career in Los Colinas after having served in four states.  His passion for aiding the efforts of others in exercising good citizenry is evident. 


Gibbs grew up as the son and grandson of medical doctors, having accompanied his father on many house calls.  This was the impetus for his post-high school educational pursuits.  He earned his undergraduate degree in History from Emory University.  For three additional years, Gibbs continued with graduate studies at the University of Cincinnati in Ancient History, the Classics, and Anthropology. 


His life is a quiet but effective reminder of the value of involvement in the lives of others.  Deeply driven character stakes are on full display when you interact with Gibbs.  “The world is a fallible place.  I try to put myself in the lives of others and realize we all have setbacks.  This doesn’t mean you have to be defeated.  I always make it a point to count my blessings,” says Gibbs.  “You’ve not lived until you do good for other people.  Doing so will write your story,” he continues.  


His are involvements in the lives of others without the intention of personal praise or reward.  Gibbs doesn’t roll that way.  His are efforts to provide hope. . .  interventions to make situations a bit less stressful for folks and doing so with sought-after divine direction.  

. . . And The Beat Goes On, And On, And On

April/May 2019

“Come on, Michelle.”
It’s the phrase quietly uttered to herself by Charline Conger, the 81-year-old heart transplant recipient, during  bowling competitions at the Transplant Games of America. “I think about Michelle constantly during the Games, and remain so thankful that her heart allows me to continue living,” says Conger. She received the new heart on November 28, 1989, the date she now views as her second birthday.


While recovering in 1986 from a “routine” surgical procedure, Conger contracted a viral infection that affected her energy and resulted in a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy. Her health declined for the next three years. Analyses from a stress test and heart catheterization determined that she was in need of a transplant. Conger was placed on the national list and underwent the operation approximately one month later in her home state of Louisiana. The donor was a 21-year-old female suicide victim named Michelle who additionally provided other organs for needed recipients. The match had to be perfect in a variety of realms before the operation could take place. Conger’s defective ticker was not totally tossed aside. . . she had two good valves which were used for others in subsequent medical undertakings.


Dr. John Ochsner conducted the several hours long operation at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans. “I was #58 of the first 100 transplants. All were considered experimental. I was told I had a fifty-fifty chance of surviving without a new heart. Very few of the 100 are still with us,” states Conger. After the detailed medical handiwork, Conger was told to plan on another 3-5 years of life “if lucky.”


Conger is the mother of 6 children, and grandparent to 26 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, and 2 great-great-grandchildren. Hers was a life in southeast Louisiana until a move to south Texas in 1958, and a move to Euless in 1996. A widow since 1994, she considers it a privilege to have taken care of her husband during the life-ending complications he had with larynx cancer.


Conger has enjoyed good health, all things considered, since the transplant. She sees a cardiologist twice yearly and continues to be on anti-rejection medication and steroids. Two knee replacements (December 2017 and February 2018) and a facial cancer have put a small dent in her active lifestyle, but not to the point of abandoning her positive approach to life. She cheerfully proclaims, “I’m just grateful to be alive and continuously thank God for the new heart which He allowed me to have.”


Although a significant activity for her husband, bowling was not a part of Conger’s life until 1997. She was approached by a local professional bowler at that time who asked if she wanted someone to teach her. Conger said “yes” and became a league bowler within the year. She taught neighborhood youth the finer points of the game for 18 years.


During the first 12 months of her newfound form of recreation, this lady of the lanes met an employee from Baylor New Hearts and Lungs who acquainted her with the Transplant Games. The Games involve competitive participation by donors and recipients in upwards of 20 events. The number of medal-seeking participants topped 500 during the latest Games in August 2018. From 1998 through last year’s event in Salt Lake City, Conger has been present for each of the every-other-year Games held within the USA. She has won bowling competitions during the overwhelming majority of those occasions, going back to earlier years and since she has entered the “Over 70” division. Conger contends in both the female singles and mixed doubles categories. Her average score for league play in Euless is in the mid-120’s. She steps it up a bit during the Transplant Games and averages in the mid-150’s, citing the heart-related assistance from Michelle. Conger is currently the oldest participant in the Games from the Lone Star State. She has additionally won Texas Hold’Em events at the Games.


Val Markussen has enjoyed the pleasure of being a part of Conger’s league-bowling life for the past 10 years. “She always exhibits a zest for life with a smile on her face. She bowls and handles administrative duties within the one of the leagues for which we are a part, and continues to remain positive regardless of her scores,” says Markussen.


Beyond the scores and prestige associated with being a force within the Transplant Games is Conger’s commitment to the need for organ donations. She volunteers with an awareness organization known as LifeGift. Additionally, she has been a part of health fairs during recent years which emphasize the importance of allowing someone to experience continued life through the aid of others.


Charline Conger continues to be a life worthy of emulation. With significant medical odds against her, she refuses to allow the missed pins of life to be a discouragement. She carries on quite well with the heart of another.
Thank you, Michelle!

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