Friday, August 29, 2014

Mardi Gras, Jack Cooley, and a selfie

When I was young and growing up, my parents had some friends who lived in New Orleans, Jack and Joan Cooley and their three kids. They lived, at the time, in a two story shotgun which I thought was so weird, having never seen a shotgun house before.

I think I was about 8 when we went to Mardi Gras the first time and hung out in Jack's studio. Jack Cooley was an artist whose studio was in the French Quarter basically right across the street from Pat O'Brians, a famous bar. Jack was the ultimate in bohemian lifestyle to my parents. He ran his own life and painted or went to Jackson Square and set up to sell his paintings. Joan used to joke that when she married him he was a greek god but now he's just a goddamn greek.

In all I think we went to Mardi Gras three times from the late 50s to the mid 60s. Maybe four. This was back when they had parades in the Quarter, day parades and night parades and the night parades had flambeaux that danced between the floats with their torches for light and the people riding the floats threw hundreds of strings of gorgeous czech glass beads that would be worth a fortune now instead of the cheap green, purple, and gold plastic ones they throw now.

We'd go for a long weekend and hit as many parades as we could including the Zulu parade. I think I was 17 the last time we went. Mother would not let me out of her sight and she was pretty rude about it too chasing off any attractive young men that stopped to talk to me as I leaned against the wall outside beside the door to Jack's studio.

The thing about Jack being an artist is that they lived hand to mouth, even though Joan worked. A couple of times when times got really bad, my parents had a party/showing for him at our house and Jack would spread his paintings all around the house for people to see and buy. Consequently, we had lots of Cooley paintings in our house. Lots.

We even had a mural on the wall in the family room that when my parents built the house I lived in from about 7 on, they left a section of wall for Jack to paint. When my parents sold that house, the mural section of wall was cut out and mounted on plywood. My sister has it now.

The mural depicts the three main industries of Texas...ranching (cowboy on horse and longhorn steer), oil (oil field worker and derrick), and fishing represented by water at the bottom that you can't see.

One summer when I was about 13 or 14, my parents talked Jack into letting me come and visit for a couple of weeks. Jack was supposed to give me painting lessons (all part of my father's plan for me to become an artist painter and get gallery shows so he could bask in the glow) and Jack either just blew that part off or he wasn't paying attention. He told me basically he couldn't teach me anything so I could entertain myself however I wanted. Being a little intimidated, I chose to prowl around the Quarter the whole time I was there, while Jack slopped paint on masonite and drank and smoked cigars. Fact is, Jack was a pretty sloppy painter.

They took me around some to entertain me too. I remember we went to an amusement park and I talked them into letting me ride the roller coaster, assuring them that I was not afraid, that I liked roller coasters (and I do though it's been a long time since I rode one) and almost to the top I was totally regretting my bravado and seriously wanting off as I had never been on one that high before but then I was screaming all the way down and it was a blast.

Anyway, my father was a little pissed that Jack didn't give me any painting lessons at all.

Jack painted the same things over and over...clowns, jazz musicians in general and Al Hirt in particular, scenes from the French quarter and Jackson Square though we had some of more rare subject matter. 

This one was always a big favorite in our house. My sister has it too.

He even did portraits of us kids when I was 5.

I still have that dress. I can remember wearing it. I loved that dress. It's probably the last time in my life I looked good in ruffles and lace.

So what brought up all these memories is the last time I was at the old property I was at my daughter's house helping her get the last things of hers out and I was up in the attic and found 5 of Jack's old paintings. My sister still has a few but I don't have any. I guess I had these or somehow Sarah came into possession of them. No telling. Anyway, I spent the day cleaning them off and I'm going to put the clowns and the 'floral' in the store to sell, my sister wants the seagulls and I might keep the ballerina.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

late summer in the yard

While most of the summer was surprisingly moderate, August has been very hot and dry. In fact we have been having our hottest days so far this year this past week and so the pecan trees have been dropping their immature pecans by the bucket full. And the tree that lost three large limbs last summer, lost another one last week.

Not much has bloomed this year that bloomed all summer last year due to the late March hard freeze we had. The star of india is barely 12” tall since it took so long to come out. The plumerias, with one exception, have not bloomed but I thought I had lost them all. The ginger is just now starting to bloom but not lushly. 

The morning glory bush that was so profuse last year is putting on only a grudging flower or two. My desert rose which I have had for at least 8 years and I think longer and has grown profusely finally bloomed for the first time ever. Two flowers so far and two more buds. 

The day lilies have been surprising. Several varieties put up a second round of bloom scapes. I have day lilies blooming out there right now, in late August. Not many, but some. The point is, I don't think I have ever had day lilies blooming this late in the year. 

The altheas seem to be doing an extended bloom also. Not many, but some. One of the biggest altheas, maybe the biggest, did not come back from the winter. I knew it was doing poorly. I think it finally succumbed to damage from the terrible drought we had several summers ago.

The new transplantees are in a holding pattern. The ginger seems to be settling in but it won't bloom til next year. If I don't move it. The two splits off the heritage rose are putting on new growth and one even produced a little flower. The beauty berry and mexican bird of paradise are survivors. Jury's still out on the yesterday, today, and tomorrow and another star of india. The bulbs will be fine but it may take them a year to bloom again.

Been noticing some of the smaller inhabitants around here.

This walking stick is missing a front leg but was determined to climb up the siding upon which it could not get a grip.

Small praying mantis on the mexican bird of paradise.

A young grasshopper.

Anole basking in the sun.

What the hell is this thing with it's spade head and all?

Monday, August 25, 2014

not scorched but scoured

Marc took the boys home Saturday while I was working at the antique store. He needed to go by a hardware store (the one here closes at noon) so he went inside the Loop to the neighborhood store where we shopped when we lived in the city. Afterwards he drove by the old homestead.

This is what he saw:

Almost 40 years of living. Wiped. Off the. Fucking. Face. Of the. Earth. With one exception...the magnolia tree we planted is still there.

Even the sidewalk we wrote in when the cement was still wet is gone.

So many plants I couldn't amazing bougainvillea, yellow angel trumpet (got cuttings), hummingbird bush, crepe myrtle, camphor tree, plumbagos, yesterday today and tomorrow (dug up some), ferns (dug up two), a large star of india (dug up a small one), flowering vines (dug up two), banana trees (dug up some), a heritage rose (dug up two small ones where the branches took root, one of which has already bloomed a single flower), aspidistra (got some), turk's cap (dug some up)... I think I got all the bulbs of various kinds and all the ginger. I got the mexican bird of paradise and the beauty berry and they are doing well. Others, like the star of india and the yesterday, today, and tomorrow, the jury is still out. And I'm sorry about all the little creatures who lost their homes.

Here's a little pictorial of the house over the years.

Late 1970s when we were first living in the house. I bought it in 1975 and the kids were born in 1977 and 1979. This might be pre-kids. The picture was in color but it had turned pink. Looks better as black and white.

Mid-80s. I can't tell how old Sarah is there, maybe 8 which would make this 1985.

2003. By now Sarah and her family were living next door and we had moved the turtle from the back yard to the front. I'd gotten rid of most the grass. We had removed the skirt to have the house leveled which turned out to be a big mistake and we never got around to putting the skirt back on.

2003. The view from the kid's driveway and the path the grandkids took to our door.

Also in 2003, we had to rebuild the shop as termites had eaten up a lot of the framing. We did this one wall at a time, propping up the roof as we went. That's when we moved the sandblast room out of the shop and onto the driveway. Once we had all four walls framed, we tore off the metal roofing and replaced a good deal of the roof boards. Then we put on all new metal siding, the insulated and sheetrocked the inside. We did it all ourselves, he and I. In this picture, we have just finished re-cladding the shop and roof but not done any of the interior work yet. This is the end that faced the little back yard. The front faced the driveway.

2012. We had been moved out for two years, coming in only to work which wasn't often and the house was showing the neglect. Our son and Daughter-in-law moved in and revived it a bit but they also took out the front flower bed which didn't have all that much in it since we had taken everything to the country.

2014. We sold the property.

This is what it looked like from the street the last time I saw it. Well, except for the torn up driveway where they disconnected the house from the main sewer line.

Marc asked me last night if seeing the picture made me sad. And yeah, a little maybe. Mostly it was just a shock even though I knew ultimately it would be torn down.

It's mostly weird that after 64 years I no longer have a home in Houston. Not that I want to live there again but I always had a base of operations when I was there.

I have bigger fish to fry now with the new shop than to dwell on what I let go.

Friday, August 22, 2014

a peek turned into demolition and a selfie

The grandboy is here for the second half of his week but he brought a friend with him which means we don't see much of him. Just provide food.

Now that we are moved, the summer visits are coming to an end, and my vacation is done, we are turning our attention to the new shop. The new sandblasting hut has been bought and erected. We're on the waiting list for the electrician to come out and look us over. In the meantime, Marc is trying to see if he can get the air compressor plugged in. It was wired directly into a box at the old shop.

I cut back some of the wild stuff that has taken over the front fence during the summer, working around the gate and pulling iron weed out of the cedar tree. It's also got poison ivy growing up it so I have to figure out how I'm going to deal with that.

Yesterday I decided to pull off one of the pieces of paneling to see what was underneath it. Underneath it was plywood and behind that was really old funky insulation. Also all the wood was thoroughly termite eaten. It was pretty nasty.

I didn't see any live bugs so I don't know if the damage is old damage or current. At any rate, it all has to come out and be replaced. Even the framing was all eaten. Note to an exterminator for an evaluation.

We've been trying to figure out how to use the rooms but now with this state of affairs, we've decided to take out both dividing walls and make it one large space. We want to replace the remaining paneling with sheetrock and we may add walls or partial walls later but for now we think one indoor space is better than chopped up into three little rooms.

Today I continued with the tear down.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

granny camp 5.4

fifth year, fourth child

The Saturday after I returned from my little vacation on the Oregon coast, I drove into the city to pick up my youngest grandgirl for her week.

Robin only had one thing she wanted to do which was get the transfer paper that you could print your own images on and iron them onto fabric so Monday we did all the shopping for her visit.

Since she would stay up late every night and sleep til late in the day, it took us most the week to pick and prepare and test print out all the images. She had three t-shirts for herself, one for her mom, and one for her dad.

On Friday it was time to work on the shirts. I had previously bought a pack of cotton transfer sheets for Jade but we didn't get to it during her visit so we picked up an extra pack (not the cotton) for dark fabrics. Everything went well, they printed nicely and seemed to iron on fine. They felt a little stiff so Robin wanted to wash her shirts to see if the transfer backing would soften up. The two with the regular, vinyl feeling transfers came out of the wash great. The two shirts with the cotton transfers were a disaster. The colors faded terribly and the transfers were lifting off the shirts. We had one more of the vinyl transfers left so we redid her favorite with a promise that I would get new transfer paper and redo her other shirt. The third cotton transfer is the one she did for her mother so I have to fetch it back and redo it as well.

We swam in the pool.

We visited the antique store.

She made a peach pie and on another night, brownies for Marc's and my anniversary.

We watched movies.

She made a couple of bracelets for her sisters.

We went to see Guardians Of The Galaxy.

She ate mostly fruit, I think, the whole time she was here.

Her dad and brother came out Sunday to clear a path through the property out here her parents bought so I didn't have to drive her home.

The graphic on her dad's shirt.

Monday, August 18, 2014


I got some sad news while I was on vacation. Don Greene, the outfitter I worked for for some 10 years or so as a river guide, was in the hospital diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic pancreatic cancer.

He passed away in the wee hours of the morning today.

Don devoted his life to protecting and educating people about the riparian systems in the state of Texas. He loved the Rio Grande and Big Bend State Park and the Pecos and the Colorado but his real baby was Buffalo Bayou, the only live bayou left in the Bayou City, that would be Houston TX, that runs through the center of town. By live bayou, I mean, the bayou in it's natural state, not the ones that have been channelized into a concrete conduit with mowed slopes. There was not a committee or meeting that concerned the bayou that he wasn't a part of, usually pissing people off with his insistence on a hands off approach.

Buffalo Bayou is a thriving ecosystem where a paddler can see all kinds of wild life. I would accompany him quite often on floats down the bayou between the West Loop and the Shepherd Bridge, about a two or three hour trip, with Memorial Park on one bank and a rich neighborhood with lots measured in acres on the other. This section is in the heart of the city and once on the water, all traffic noise ceases and it is easy to believe that you are out in the wilderness.

Unfortunately, Buffalo Bayou is once again under attack by the powers that be, wanting the civil engineers to 'fix' it, which actually means destroy it. The country club that stupidly built their golf course right up to the edge of the bank wants it protected from the erosion that occurs in a healthy riparian system. Without Don to stand between them and the bayou, I fear they will succeed this time.

I visited him in the hospital upon my return and am glad that he was still awake and able to communicate so I could tell him how much he meant to me, how much being a river guide meant to me, how he basically saved my life and gave me the opportunity to escape the misery at home on a regular basis and allowed me to find and be a person I never would have found or been without him.

I don't actually have very many pictures of Don because when I was employed by him, we went on different trips. Don always ran two trips at the same time in Big Bend...a raft trip through Santa Elena Canyon and a canoe trip through Boquillas Canyon. Don was always head guide on the raft trip and I was on staff on the canoe trips.

I did a number of other trips with him on the Colorado, Lower Canyons (also in the Big Bend area but not in the park), and the occasional private trip he would arrange but after the first several years, I didn't even take a camera along...too busy and most the pictures all looked the same anyway and they didn't even begin to show the majesty of the area. But I did manage to ferret out a few.

Don on the left. That's the back of me far right.

Don reclining.

One December, some members of the Boquillas guide staff decided to do a private trip and we tried our best to get Don to come with us but he wouldn't do it, so we borrowed some of his clothes and brought him along with us anyway.

Me carrying on a conversation with Rock Don.

We lugged that stupid big rock all the way downriver with us and set him up at each camp site every night.

Rock Don had a rough night.

Fly high Don.

We'll miss you.