Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Texas & Pacific

Ten years old and I'm east-bound on the old Texas and Pacific rail line. Yesterday morning we boarded the train at Union Depot in El Paso and in just over an hour we'll be arriving in Shreveport, where we'll get on the bus for the last stretch of this trip to church camp. The girls of the church have been at camp all week and are probably just finishing their west-bound trek and are rolling into El Paso about now. But we are a train-load of excited boys. Or at least we were all worked up when we left home twenty-something hours ago, but at this point we're tired and grubby. Yet we're still determined to make this trip fun.

The trees of east Texas are lumbering along at a leisurely 40 mph and we've long since wearied of looking out the window, so we're roaming the train looking for something to keep ourselves entertained. Thus, my big brother Roy notices the warning in the lavatory, "Do not flush commode while train is within city limits" and he amazingly divines the reason for this prohibition. He shares the implications with me, and our mission becomes immediately clear.

When doody calls, I give my all. I (having now locked and loaded a round) am gripping the trigger as the train slows and creeps through a small East Texas town. Roy stands at the window opposite the lavatory to signal the exact time of release. (Now, I should interject at this point in the story that Roy, like our father before him, will someday serve in the Air Force as the navigator of a bomber. And on the B-52 it's the radar-nav who's responsible for releasing the nukes. Although technology will have greatly improved since the days when my dad was guiding his B-24 over Europe, the human element will still be the deciding factor in accurate targetting when Roy sits downstairs in his BUF.) Roy's performance on the train this day (July 1, 1962) is a portent of a stellar career as a messenger of nuclear destruction.

Roy signals, I flush, and we both run through two rail cars to the back of the train to look out the rear window. There (neatly straddling the center stripe of the railroad crossing) rest yesterday's enchiladas. Frank Sinatra may have left his heart in San Francisco, but I've just left a bit of me in Longview, Texas.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Here are the results of a little "interests" quiz someone sent me. No suprise here.

What is your Perfect Major? (PLEASE RATE ME!!<3)
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Mathematics

You should be a Math major! Like Pythagoras, you are analytical, rational, and when are always ready to tackle the problem head-on!





























Friday, April 25, 2008

Left Behind!

This morning Joyce got an email from her dad and attached to it was this video ...

A rather graphic illustration of what's known in theological terms as the Rapture of the Church. That little video brought back memories of a trick we once pulled on our son Andy.

One Sunday, following the morning church service, Andy went with the youth group on some lunch outing. The rest of us came home, changed into our scruffy clothes and had lunch. As we were eating, we got the idea of staging a "Rapture" for Andy's benefit. So after lunch we fetched our fancy clothes from the hamper and arranged them around the dining table. When Andy drove up, we ran and hit in the bathroom.

Andy walked in and after a moment, we heard him wail, "Oh no! I've been left behind. My family has been raptured ... {pause} ... and they took their underwear to heaven with them."

Damn! I knew we forgot something.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

He's Home!

This brought me to tears.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bathroom Learning

Kids discover early in life that the flush handle on the toilet is a magically device to make things disappear. Twenty years ago, more times than I can count, I had to lift the toilet and use a sewer snake to clear the blocked drain. Toilet removal was yet another bathroom activity which the children found absolutely fascinating. I went sewer fishing so often that (for a while) we kept a stock of wax rings in the bathroom cupboard -- they're cheaper by the dozen, you know. (Helpful housekeeping hint: Articles of clothing that have progressed past the P-trap of the toilet are no longer serviceable. Even if they weren’t shredded when the sewer snake snagged them, the stains will not come out.)

One bygone Sunday afternoon, Joyce and I were in the living room with our oldest son Andy when we heard the toilet flush. It suddenly occurred to me that all the authorized flushers of the family were in the room with us, so I ran to the bathroom just in time to see our two youngest sons (ages 18-months and 31-months at that time) gripping the toilet rim like a railing -- their bright eyes were fixed on a rubber ducky who was swimming in tight little circles. I rescued the duck from his immanent peril and then delivered a stern lecture to James and Ben’s little bottoms. My harsh voice and disapproving thump on their diapers cured them of their magical toilet tricks -- so far anyway.

Monday, April 21, 2008


A wooden adding machine -- how cool!

Here's the
website of the guy who designed and built this contraption.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bitter Herbs

Passover begins at sunset this evening. The following story is fiction built around a Passover commemoration -- a very tragic one that occurred 1938 years ago.

I asked, "Why is this night different from all other nights?" And of course, Papa gave the answer that had been spoken since the days of Moses, but I knew with terrifying certainty that the full answer was actually something far worse than Papa (or, for that matter, even the high priest at the Temple) could imagine. I knew, even as a mere 13-year-old boy from Pergamum on his first Pesach pilgrimage, that something was seriously wrong about this Passover. True, everything had been done according to Law and tradition -- from the selection of our lamb four days prior, to purging leaven from the house -- but still, it was wrong. Jerusalem was brooding; the holiday celebration only highlighted the fear seen on every face.

Just a few months ago the Zealots had been assuring everyone that Vespasian's withdrawal was just the first phase in their drive to rid Israel of pagan Romans. Oddly, the Zealots now seemed pleased with the Roman army's returned, led now by the new Emperor's son Titus. They bragged, this would be the final show-down with Rome - the L-rd would again deliver Israel just as He'd saved us on the shore of the Red Sea.

But now (some 1500 years after Moses had led us from Egypt) Papa's recounting of the exodus was accompanied by the ominous, throbbing drums of the Tenth Roman Legion on the move outside the city. The aroma of the Passover lamb was tainted with the pork-laden stench of Roman campfires to the west. Our solemn prayers were interrupted by the coarse laughter of Roman soldiers -- undoubtedly enjoying their torture of some captive. So all that fanatical talk by the Zealots about Messiah's kingdom bringing Rome to its knees rang very hollow. All who were within Jerusalem's walls this night had but one thought, "Would the angel of death again pass us by as he had in Egypt?"

But as I said, while others had misgivings, I had no delusions about the outcome of this siege. Indeed, I was a mere boy. Yet I was also the same old Lenny Markowitz I've always been -- lumpy, middle-aged, thin-haired, bespectacled accountant who commutes daily from his home in Queens to his office on the 98th floor of the World Trade Center. I'm no historian; but even as a boy in Brooklyn the outcome of this, the bloodiest battle in all of human history, was something I knew. So when I spoke my predestined words, "Why on this night do we eat unleavened bread only?" I knew that eating unleavened bread on this night was different because, following this night we would eat stray dogs, rats, roaches, shoe leather, and (if that shmuck Josephus is to be believed) even babies.

I knew with terrifying certainty that on the Day of Atonement this year, the blood shed on the Temple Altar would be that of the Levitical Priests, not the bulls. This I knew, but this my father also intuitively understood. At the end of the meal Papa (though devout and very strict about tradition) abruptly stood, removed his kippah and announced, "We dare not pass the night within the walls of the city."

Mama protested, "Surely you joke. You've hardly finished telling the story of the death angel and now you want to dash into the streets to meet him?"

But Papa remained firm, "So stay if you must, but I will not wait for the Romans to kick down the door."

I stood, "Papa, I'm with you!" Momma cried. But even if she'd had the courage to join us, I don't think any of her brothers would have let her go. Harsh words passed between Papa and Mama's family and then we were in the streets of Jerusalem.

We'd seen Roman soldiers on the north and west of the city when we arrived, so we knew there would be no escape that direction. We ascended stairs to the top of the eastern wall, just south of the Temple. From that vantage we could see torches to the east, across the Kidron Valley, moving southward. Papa said, "The Romans have closed the trap. We'll wait until after midnight when the full moon has passed zenith -- then the eastern wall will be in shadow."

Papa explained his plan in detail. First he'd lower me down by rope and then climb down after me. We'd dash for the grove below the Mount of Olives. From there we'd keep to the shadows, creeping southward, down the Kidron Valley to where it meets the Valley of Hinnom (also called Gehenna). If by dawn we weren't clear of the city, we'd bury ourselves in the city refuse heap until after dark tomorrow. It was a good plan. But when the clouds moved in, Papa suddenly whispered, "Now's the time!" Securing the rope around my waist, he all but pushed me off the ledge. I was halfway down the wall when the clouds parted and the moon silhouetted me against the limestone blocks. A Roman archer pierced my pounding heart. I heard his gleeful boasting before I lost consciousness. I was dead before Papa had let the rope play out. The death angel, once again, had claimed the first-born on the night of Passover.

And that's how it is every night. No, I'm not always escaping from Jerusalem, but I'm always another Jew dying a horrific death. I've entertained the blood-thirsty crowds at the Roman Coliseum. I've spit in Torquemada's greasy face. I've been trampled by the Czar's horses; I've starved at Auschwitz, frozen at Dachau, been gunned down in Warsaw, been gassed at Treblinka....

I know what you're thinking: These nightmares have something to do with feelings about my repressive Jewish upbringing. Wrong! My family wasn't very "Jewish" -- we celebrated Passover with bacon cheeseburgers. Okay, so Miss Shiksa Psychiatrist doesn't get the joke. Just trust me, I didn't have a Jewish upbringing -- repressive or otherwise. But my childhood is beside the point.

Doc, the death angel's nightly visitations may be nightmarish, but they aren't nightmares. Each night when I fall asleep, I actually become another doomed Jew. When I exhale my last breath, I don't awaken from sleep -- I simply find myself awake in my own bed. And I don't just remember the events that transpired during that night -- I remember everything each doomed person has ever done during his entire life. I've felt their joy, their fear -- I've shed their tears, voiced their laughter. I've been kissed a million times on the head by thousands of mothers (my mother, every single one), and I've kissed a thousand women (each of them my wife) as she pleased. I've accumulated all the collective memories of all the thousands of persons I've known as "me". I remember every moan, every lullaby, every prayer, and every death rattle -- always my death rattle. All this I remember, but those last tormented moments of each of those lives ... I have lived.

But tell me, why me? Why -- night after endless night -- have I (of all people) been chosen to bear every sin ever committed against the Jewish people throughout history? Jesus Christ! How much suffering can one man bear?

The Critics All Agree!

One of the sleaziest documentaries to arrive in a very long time, ...
... a conspiracy-theory rant masquerading as investigative inquiry.

--Jeannette Catsoulis (New York Times)

... a tiresome ideological bludgeon, an attempt to deceive audiences ...
... a textbook Karl Rove-ian tactic to "reframe" the discussion.

--Mark Olsen (Los Angeles Times)

... a frenetic, chest-beating film worthy of the tabloids ...
--Ethan Gilsdorf (Boston Globe)

... a flimsy attempt to discredit Darwinist theory ...
--Justin Chang (Variety)

... a film that dresses creationist crackpottery in an "intelligent design" leisure suit ...
--Roger Moore (Cicago Tribune)

A hard-core, fundamentalist bit of right-wing propaganda ...
Stephen Whitty (Seattle Times)

A shameful antievolution film tries to blame Darwin for the Holocaust.
John Rennie (Scientific American)

It would seem Torquemada tolerates no dissent -- especially among the priesthood. If that's not enough reason to see the movie, I don't know what is.

=== UPDATE ===
New Trailer -- shorter, funnier!

Thursday, April 17, 2008


The worst part of being an old fart is: I can't remember sh..., I mean, my short-term memory is not so good. I was trying to remember whether I'd told one of my lame stories from my boyhood days, but I'm too lazy to visually search through my archive. (That's the next worst thing about geezerhood -- laziness.)

So I thought to myself, There must be an easy way to search all my old entries... and then it suddenly occurred to me, I can just do a Google search on "lost fart" plus a few words that would have to be in that story.

The bad news is: That didn't work. However, the good news is: That probably means I haven't told my old cub scouting story yet.

But then again, the really bad news is: In searching on "Lost Fart", just look what I found.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Cruisin' (Episode IV)

This past summer Joyce and I drove to her family's farm in Illinois, but sadly we arrived (as things turned out) just hours after her 99-year-old grandfather had passed away. So what we'd hoped would be a final visit with Grandpa turned out to be a family reunion occasioned by Grandpa's funeral. As sad as we all were, it was such a joy to see all of Joyce's relatives gathered once more. This coming Sunday, April 20th, would have been Grandpa's 100th birthday. The next chapter in my ongoing story of our 1990 family vacation (think Chevy Chase and Beverley D'Angelo) tells of our visit to the farm. So in memory of a man who was great because he was good, here's Episode IV.

Following the night of nature's light show in Jacksonville, Illinois, we drove to Springfield, past the silver-domed Illinois State Capitol Building (a scaled-up version of the County Courthouse in Weatherford, Texas) and then dropped in on Lincoln's home. (Abe and Mary weren't in.) Although I'd been the only one to detect Jesse James's lingering essence back at Meramec Caverns, Joyce demonstrated her superior olfactory ability by being the first to detect the fragrance emanating from Ben. So (while Joyce dealt with Ben's soiled undergarments in Lincoln's restroom) Andy, James and I sat on a wood bench in the mansion's lobby. The bench was a split log, cut longitudinally. As we sat there, it occurred to me that this was one of those rare teachable moments with the kids.

So I shared: "Boys, did you know this bench we're sitting on was made out of a log from Lincoln's log cabin in Kentucky? Lincoln himself probably chopped down the very wood we're sitting on."

Just as my tutorial was getting warmed up, Joyce emerged from Lincoln's latrine with Ben all freshly diapered and (having overheard just enough blarney to cause her eyes to roll around) she wasted no time dismantling my carefully crafted lesson plan, "Bobby, don't fill their heads with such garbage."

I of course chided: "So how do you expect the kids to learn anything? It's important to pass on ones family heritage. Here James, let me show you how to tie your shoes."

Before leaving Springfield we drove over to Lincoln's tomb (a designation that one could convincingly ascribe to the entire town of Springfield, IL). Now I must admit, Illinoisans do have a marginal edge over their Missouri neighbors when it comes to honoring their fallen heroes (which is to say Illinois has entombed Lincoln somewhat better than Missouri has enshrined Lassie).

On the far side of Springfield we arrived at the farm (just a few miles west of Champaign, IL) where Joyce's Mom had grown up. There Joyce's Aunt Vickie (wife of Joyce's Uncle Wayne and daughter-in-law of Joyce's grandparents who lived across the road) instructed us on the terms of the truce between her and Grandma.

You see, it seems that our visit the previous year had sparked something of a hospitality war between Grandma and Aunt Vickie. Both ladies were far too kind and gentle to engage in open hostility, but I sensed that Grandma viewed Vickie's offering us food and lodging us as a surprise attack on her position as hostess. Grandma (who wasn't about to surrender her guests without a fight) had retaliated with the flanking maneuver of preparing and serving us meals every chance she got.

Throughout our stay that previous year, neither Grandma nor Vickie would cede the title of hostess, so we'd been served no fewer than five meals a day and the road between the houses had become something of a battle front (lacking only the concertina wire and tank ditches). But this year, much to the relief of our waistlines, the warring parties had declared a truce prior to our arrival. Vickie informed us that we were to eat at her house and sleep in the upstairs bedrooms at Grandma and Grandpa's.

We spent two days and three nights on the farm, during which time Uncle Wayne built Andy a toy steam roller out of lumber from a walnut tree that had stood near the barn until a tornado removed both it and the barn during the Spring of 1983. One evening as we were seated around an infinitely expandable dining table, Uncle Wayne pointed out that the table had been built by Grandma's grandfather. Our three boys were the sixth generation to sit at this table. Wayne also noted that Grandpa's grandfather had built the house more than 125 years ago.) The farm brimmed with family history.

During our stay we also found time: to visit with Joyce's Aunt Sharon and Uncle Stan (sheep farmers who live down the road a ways), to fetch reluctant kitties out of the barn, and to swing on a swing hung from a pine tree that Grandpa's father planted.

But as I was saying, Aunt Vickie informed us that we were being billeted in the western upstairs bedrooms at Grandma and Grandpa's house on the east side of the road. Aunt Dorothy (who was born during the McKinley Administration and who was never to be confused with Grandma whose name was "Dorthy" - sans the "o") lived in the other half of the upstairs. She came and went from her apartment by way of the outdoor back stairway. We were to use the indoor stairs.

At the top of that indoor stairway were three doors: to the right was the north bedroom (which Joyce and I were assigned), straight ahead was the south bedroom (where our three boys were to bed down), and to the left was the door to Aunt Dorothy's apartment. But of course, that door was never to be opened. I can't say whether the door was locked (I rather doubt it could have been since even the outside doors didn't have locks), but one thing I knew was: Touching that knob would have been akin to touching the Ark of the Covenant. I for one, wouldn't have dreamed of desecrating what God Himself had declared sacred.

Each morning Aunt Dorothy would walk the length of two farm sections regardless of the weather, a mile down to the grain elevator and a mile back. Andy and I were privileged to be invited (along with Joyce's youngest girl cousins, who were only a few years older than Andy) to tea parties in Aunt Dorothy's apartment. The gossip about what the girl's dolls were up to and everyone's practiced extending of pinkies was well worth the climb up the outdoor steps. Sometime during our visit in the heat of a Scrabble game, I learned the hard way that Aunt Dorothy did not approve of the word "ZIT". (I was forced to concede that indeed "ZIT" is not in the official 1947 edition of Webster's.)

Grandma talked incessantly (mostly about her nerves). But when not fretting about her fretting, she found things even more trivial to fret about. Grandpa kept the summer sun's hours - up at 5:00 AM every morning and down when the cobalt-blue Harvestore's pink hue darkened to purple, or when Lawrence Welk's champagne bubbles quit bursting - whichever happened last. (Only Lawrence Welk could keep Grandpa up past his [and the sun's] bedtime.) During those intervening sunlit hours, Grandpa (whenever not tending the popcorn in the side yard or the sweet corn down at the corner) would harness his horses and take our kids for wagon rides.

Grandpa was also a very accomplished listener. His words were few but always worth your time. Grandpa and I both felt quite comfortable with long periods of silence and we liked each others jokes. He laughed like pumped air brakes on a truck. Sadly while we were there, Grandpa had to go to the hospital to have his gall bladder removed. Joyce, the boys and I left before Grandpa actually went under the knife. By the time he had his surgery, we were in Sparta, Wisconsin. But that's a whole other story.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Iowa Hawk Rocks!

Occasionally -- after I've shared a funny story or two -- I feign fancy myself a humor writer. But then I read something like this and I repent in dust and ashes.

Scrabble Play

Joyce: There! I just added four letters to your word and covered the triple-word score. Thirty-three points!

Bob: Ummm, dear -- do you know what that word means?

Joyce: Don't worry, it's a word -- I looked it up in the Scrabble dictionary.

Bob: I wasn't questioning whether it's a word. I was just curious if you knew its meaning.

Joyce: It's one of those Italian ice creams, or something -- right?

Bob: No, that would be GELATO. FELLATIO is more like a Popsicle.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Poor, Poor Baby

Our granddaughter has her bad days ...

And she has good days ...

And as you can see, those days can happen seconds apart.

Friday, April 4, 2008

For Shame!

I am absolutely appalled!

Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King. But how does NASCAR choose to honor him? By having an event at the Texas Motor Speedway they're calling "Race Weekend"!

I mean seriously! How does an event devoted to "race" jibe with Martin Luther King's dream that his children would "live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character"? If NASCAR really wanted to pay tribute to the life of this great man, they should be having a "Non-racially Discriminatory Weekend" rather than a weekend that emphasizes our racial differences?

Well, all I can say is, "They should all be ashamed of themselves!"

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

With This Ring

Specialist Dave was getting out of the Army. I'd met Specialist Dave through Sergeant Dave, yet another trooper who was also stationed at Fort Stewart and who (before joining the Army) had been the roommate of my cousin Bill in Houston. We, the two Daves and I, didn't hang out together that much, but occasionally we'd meet to have a Bible study, eat fried chicken, talk politics ... whatever. Sergeant Dave had been reassigned to Fort Benning about a year earlier, and now Specialist Dave was getting discharged from the Army.

As an E4, Dave wasn't entitled to any reimbursement for his moving expenses. All he was owed upon discharge was a plane ticket home. In fact, as far as the Army officially knew, Dave lived in the barracks and ate in the mess hall. But his true residence was a flea-infested trailer on a dirt road about two miles from the front gate of Fort Stewart (a locale one might describe as suburban Hinesville, except that cosmopolitan Hinesville was also prone to dirt roads, which actually earned their earthen title only on those rare occasions when it wasn't raining).

But as I said, Dave was leaving the service. With a trailer full of yard-sale-worthy furnishings, Dave needed some way to haul his loot back home to Houston. I had my beige '74 Chevy Vega and Dave was desperate. His best option was to deed to the next resident of the single-wide his legless settee, sagging bed, Formica-topped dining table and those lime-green vinyl-covered chairs, and to make a couple of round-the-clock round trips to Houston in my two-door hatchback with me and the rest of his loot.

It was Columbus Day weekend of 1977. Now, as holidays go, Columbus Day ranks well below Thanksgiving and very marginally above Groundhog Day. But in the military all Federal holidays are special - we had a three day weekend. Sometime around sunset on Friday, after Dave and I had crammed into my car all the junk that would fit, we headed out on our 20-hour trek to Houston. Somewhere around 2:00 AM, along one of the two-lane, undivided, kudzu-draped, yet-to-be-completed stretches of Interstate 10, we determined that both of us were too sleepy to drive. I pulled off beside the road. An hour or so later, an Alabama state trooper's amazingly bright flashlight disturbed my slumber. After a word of caution from the authorities, we pressed on-feeling chastened yet refreshed.

Dave had arranged for us to stay at the apartment of a friend (where he was dumping his junk) and there we crashed for a few hours on Saturday afternoon, putting our army-issued air mattresses to good use. Another migrant soldier, named Joe, was also passing through Houston on his way from the Infantry Officer Basic Course (in Fort Benning, Georgia) to San Francisco, and thence Korea. Joe was holed up in this same apartment, but he'd pulled into town a day or so ahead of us, and had chanced to meet a fellow named Max at Bible class the night before. Max, a patriot who had a big heart for warriors like Joe, had invited him over to supper the following night. Joe extended Max's invitation to Dave and me as we were contemplating what to do for supper that Saturday night.

I replied (even though I've never been known for my social skill), "They don't want a bunch of grungy soldiers invading their house."

Joe saw right to the heart of the matter and responded, "But they have a couple of daughters who are about twenty years old."

Seeing the point of etiquette much more clearly, I said, "Well, I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask."

Joe called Max and asked if they'd mind if he brought a couple of his Army buddies along. I could hear Max's boistrous reply clearly, even though I was several feet away from the earpiece of the phone: "Sure! The more the merrier!" When it came time to go, Dave said he didn't feel very well and backed out, so Joe and I headed over to Max and Diane's house, all ready to eat grub and meet babes. We rang the doorbell and Max invited us in. I introduced myself to Max and Diane (and their two teenage boys who may have wandered through, I don't rightly remember), but as we struck up a conversation with this charming couple, I couldn't help but wonder where Joe's promised "girls" were.

Somehow the conversation wandered onto the subject of family. It was then that Joe and I learned that Max and Diane's two daughters were at the Texas A&M - Rice football game. Our disappointment at not meeting the babes was only increased as we slowly figured out that Diane had no clue we were coming for supper. Now, to my credit, even a social retard like me knew that Emily Post frowns on strangers demanding food from a lady who, up until five minute ago, figured you must be Mormon missionaries canvassing the neighborhood. (Well, actually, we'd have never passed for Mormons; we were way too scruffy. I wasn't even wearing socks, having forgotten to bring a spare pair with me from Fort Stewart.)

So Joe and I sat in the living room and pretended to be interested in the lives of this elderly couple (whom I reckoned to be all of forty years old). Then the doorbell rang and Max answered the door to find Bert Lahr's younger brother (a guy named "Skoney" who was apparently an old friend of Max's and had just decided to drop by). So now Joe and I were being "entertained" by three ancient people.

Then the miracle happened. The front door burst open and in walked, not two, but four girls. The superfluity of young ladies was due to the fact that the daughters (Joyce and Tina) had gone to the Aggie game with two friends. It was then that we learned that Skoney's visit wasn't such a coincidence. Sometime earlier, Skoney had goaded the girls (who were all rooting for A&M) into a wager. Skoney, taking Rice and 15 points, had bet each of them $5.

Of course, A&M beat Rice by only 14 points. So just as soon as the sweet ladies walked in, Skoney, being the "gentleman" that he is, demanded immediate payment. They handed over Skoney's filthy lucre, and Skoney announced, "I'm gonna get something to eat. Who wants to come with me?" Joe and I (remembering the other point of this visit) immediately volunteered and were naturally even more please that it became a co-ed outing. We (Skoney, Max, the two daughters, Joe and I) squeezed into Skoney's car. As I recall it, Joyce's dad and Skoney were up front and the rest of us crammed into the back seat. I was not the least bit displeased when Max's oldest daughter Joyce offered to sit on my lap.

Someone (probably Joyce's dad) pointed out that Joyce was corresponding with other servicemen. Sensing that this remark was intended to highlight Joyce's fickleness at having offered to share my lap, I remarked, "That's very kind of her. Speaking as one lonely soldier, I wouldn't mind having a pretty girl writing me."

The lovely Joyce replied, "You have to write me first."

I eagerly agreed to the bargain and, upon arriving back at Fort Stewart, I took up the challenge. I crafted the cleverest, funniest letter I could (adventures at the laundramat or something), and within a week I had two letters back. I took that as a good sign, and pulled out all the stops on my wit and charm in my next missive. I got three letters in return. So I redoubled my efforts and started spending all my spare time crafting epistles to Joyce. My next letter was again met with a barrage. I thought: If this young lady's carrying on correspondence with other guys, then she's awfully prolific. I began writing every day, but even at full throttle, I only managed to maintain that one-to-three ratio.

I later learned that my letters were not only a big hit with the lovely Joyce, but with her parents as well. She confessed that my letters weren't like those of other guys who wrote her. She thought mine were so funny that she just had to share them with her parents. Years later Max told me he didn't figure there was anything serious between us because Joyce wasn't at all shy about sharing all my correspondence with them. I made no effort to dispel his belief that I was so cunning that I'd managed to steal his daughter right out from under his nose.

But Joyce wasn't entirely a mail order bride. I did manage trips to Houston for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then on one fateful, brutally cold, late-January trip to visit Joyce in Plainview (near Lubbock) where she was doing sales work, I popped the question.

Well, to be technically correct, Joyce asked me, "Why don't we get married?" and I replied, "Let's talk about it tomorrow." I'm sure Joyce thought I was stalling, but I actually wanted to think about how I could arrange to set up a household before I asked her to marry me. Yes that, and I also really didn't want to someday have to tell my kids, "Your mom asked me to marry her and I said, 'Yes'."

Anyway, the story is: Next day we were at K-Bob's Steak House and I looked at Joyce and asked, "How does April First sound?" (Andy, please note: your notion that I intentionally took your mom to K-Bob's to ask her to marry me so that all she would have to answer was the name of the restaurant, " 'K, Bob!" is pure fabrication. You made that up. I'm not nearly that clever.) At any rate, I asked, "How does April First sound?"

And Joyce replied (not " 'K, Bob!" but), "Sounds good! ... For what?"

"For getting married. Let's get married on April First. See, it's my dad's 60th birthday and, ... I don't know, I just like the idea of getting married on April Fool's Day."

Well, of course, Joyce just loved the idea of marrying me on April Fool's Day - the foolish girl.

April first was a beautiful spring day in Houston, or at least as beautiful as Houston can get (a little too muggy for this El Paso boy, but no one else complained). The azaleas were blooming and Joyce was never prettier. Because the parents of the bride had a scheduling conflict (some trip they were committed to and had to leave that evening) and because Joyce and I were very stubborn about the April first date, the wedding was held at 10:00 AM. Everyone gathered at the bride's parents' home and all was going perfectly as we stood before the preacher (a.k.a. my brother Joel) ready to recite our vows - my bride on my left with her father standing behind and to her left; my trusty best man and brother Roy to my right.

At that time Joel had been out of Seminary maybe two years and he was pastoring a small church south of Houston in which funerals were much more frequent than weddings. At any rate, ours was the first wedding he'd ever officiated. I do believe he was more nervous than we were. As I stood gazing at my bride, Joel stood stiffly, eyes fixed on his "script". He'd carefully prepared a manuscript to guide us through the service, thus assuring that nothing could go wrong. With a few words on the sanctity of marriage and a short prayer, we were fast approaching that part of the wedding where Joyce and I get our cameos. Then Joyce blew it.

As Joel spoke of the example of Christ and the Church, Joyce looked straight at me with panick in those beautiful eyes and whispered, "The ring!"

I knew the drill - that was the best man's job. With Joel still droning on, I leaned toward Roy and softly asked, "You got the ring?"

Buckwheat stared back and then tried to give Joel the time-out signal. Joel was not to be distracted from his liturgy.

Now, I have to interject a little background information here. You see, Joyce already had the ring. We'd merely forgotten to make sure we handed it to Roy before the service began. The reason Joyce had whispered, "The ring!" was that she'd just remembered that she'd placed it on the dresser in her bedroom. I had no clue where the ring was, and I wasn't thinking very quickly or I'd have realized there was no way Roy would have any clue where we'd hidden it either. But with that said, I must also tell you that the look of panic on Roy's face was priceless.

Max (father of the bride standing to our left rear) had been observing this drama, and at just the right moment he intervened. While Joyce and I exchanged our vows, Max pulled off his wedding ring and handed it to Roy who seemed very thankful.

When Joel asked: "What token do you give in pledge that you will faithfully perform these vows?" Roy passed him Max's wedding ring.

Still not glancing up from the script, Joel held Max's ring up for everyone to see and solemnly intoned: "May this ring henceforth be the pure and changeless symbol of your pure and changeless love." Then he handed the plumbing fixture to me. I got tickled.

Joel commanded, "Bob, repeat after me, 'I give this ring...'."

"I give THIS? ring ..."

"... as an unending pledge of my love and devotion…"

"... as an unending pledge of my love and devotion {snicker}…"

"... until death shall separate us."

"... until death {snicker} shall separate us {snort}."

Joyce, only slightly less composed than I, somewhat less than solemnly pledged to wear her father's beveled-edged ring as an unending symbol of her unending love and devotion until death parted us. The only way she could have kept that promise to wear that honker of a ring was to slip it onto two of her fingers.

Joel then prayed and closed with the pronouncement: "What therefore God hath joined together let not man put asunder" and we erupted in laughter.

Eyeing me hard, Joel asked in a tone that seemed to threaten to refuse to sign our marriage license, "You did take your vows seriously, didn't you?"

"Well yeah, kind of ..."

So here we are now, thirty years later. I reckon we were serious enough.