God bless you, Tom Hanks

By Dave Williams

My youngest grandson called last evening. He was so excited and so am I.

Tyler Williams has achieved a thrill that eluded me when I was his age; his hero has made amends for mine.

Here’s the story:

Tom & Tyler

A few nights ago my son and daughter-in-law took their son, Tyler, to see a production of Shakespeare’s Henry IV starring Tom Hanks. Though he’s only 13 Tyler loves Tom Hanks. He told me he’s been a big fan of Tom Hanks his entire life!

Well… since he was three.

While looking around before the show a stagehand apparently asked him if he was a Shakespeare fan, or words to that effect, and Tyler said yes, but mostly he’s a Tom Hanks fan.

The guy said maybe he could arrange for Tyler to meet Tom Hanks after the show.  You can’t imagine how excited my grandson was.

And you also can’t imagine how disappointed he was when the show ended and they couldn’t find that stagehand. Tyler and his parents headed toward the parking lot but then the miracle happened:

A large, black SUV pulled up alongside my family. The driver rolled down the window and said, “Hey, Kid! Did you like the show?”

Tom Hanks had found him.

Tyler was over the moon!

They talked for a few minutes. Tyler told his superstar hero that he, too, was an actor. Tom told him to keep practicing and offered some funny suggestions about how to enunciate properly.

A personal autograph followed and then, a big hug.

Tyler will be walking on that cloud his entire life. And how much time did it take Tom Hanks to give a kid a thrill and maybe some lifelong inspiration?

Hanks hug

Five minutes, maybe.

When I was about Tyler’s age I had a chance to talk to my hero, too. I was the only kid there when Willie Mays left the San Francisco Giants clubhouse following a game.

“Mr. Mays,” I stammered breathlessly, “will you sign my glove?”

I looked at him as if he was a god. But he didn’t look at me, not even a glance. He ignored me as if I didn’t exist. Without breaking stride he walked straight to his car.

It took me a lot of years to forgive Willie for my crushing disappointment. As I got older I did forgive him but I never forgot the pain of thinking my hero was not a nice man. It shattered my feelings for him.

But now, more than 50 years later Tom Hanks has made up for it.

I guess you could argue that I learned a valuable lesson that day so many years ago. Maybe. All I know is it hurt real bad and some of that stayed with me for decades.

Tyler will never feel that way.

God bless you, Tom Hanks.

 

Above is the program that Tom Hanks autographed for Tyler. Kinda hard to read here. It says, “Tyler, speak the speech. – T. Hanks” It’s a line from Hamlet in which Shakespeare tells actors to speak as real people do, not with florid exagerration as actors frequently do, especially while reciting his works. That’s my interpretation, at least. It is an amazing gift from a wonderful actor to a greatful young fan.

My favorite corner

I have an office in our home that was originally a guest room. After we’d lived here for a couple of years it had only hosted two guests so CarolAnn decided I should put it to daily use. If anyone else comes to visit we’ll cross that bridge.

my favorite corner

My room has family pictures on the walls and one very special photo in its original 67-year-old cardboard frame parked weirdly in a desk paper organizer. We’ll get a frame for it sooner or later. For now I get a warm, secure feeling from having my dad and mom smiling at me as I sit at my computer still trying to make something of my future.

They’d like that future planning, even at my age. They taught it to me.

Don & Nancy Williams
August 6, 1950

It’s their wedding picture, taken August 6, 1950. I was born exactly one year later. As a young child unacquainted with the social implications of the times I always proudly told people I was born the same day they got married.

Our 30th year together

The Valentine’s Day card is from my CarolAnn from this past February as we started our 30th year together. It’s one of those just-perfect cards that seems like it was written specifically for the two of us. It allows me to be with her even when I’m alone in my room.

The smaller photo is our youngest grandson Tyler in a Christmas pose from a couple of years ago. He reminds me of why I want to keep learning and growing.

Tyler Goold Williams

Oh, and the Snow White lamp? It used to reside in our Disney themed room in Southern California. We don’t have one of those here so it stays with me. I love the warm light, the bright colors and the constant reminder that we’ve invested a good portion of our time and fortune to the Disney Corporation. We feel it has been time and money well spent.

I love our home, every bit of it, but this is my favorite corner. It’s a snapshot of a small piece of my happy life.

 

Survival

The world can be a brutal place especially for the very young and helpless. Occasionally such a life is delivered to us. We do what we can.

 

This baby bunny was taken from its nest in our yard by one of our beloved pets, probably Cora, the cat.

Cora is a predator. She can’t help it, she’s a cat.

 

There were two babies to begin with. One was convinced to drink kitten formula in CarolAnn’s hands. In this very short video you can hear us cooing and worrying as if we were its parents.

When the feeding was finished the babies were put in a soft bed we made in a small box. The box was placed in our backyard flower garden with hope that the mother rabbit would retrieve them during the night. She did not. By the following morning one had died. CarolAnn took the other to a professional wildlife rescuer who specializes in rabbits.

Seems like a lot of effort to save a tiny wild animal, doesn’t it? Especially by people who routinely celebrate when our pets kill a rat in the same yard.

I can’t make sense of that. I just know I’m still worried about that bunny.

 

 

 

If you like me you’d love my mom

Nancy Laura Webster, age 17 Grant Union High School Yearbook, Sacramento 1949

Mother’s Day makes me happy, a little sad and very proud.

I’m happy because my mom, Nancy Laura Webster Williams, is still alive at 86. I’m a little sad because she’s living in a total care facility in Sacramento which is too far for me to visit when I want to. And as much as I’d like to describe her as still being as lively and funny as she was at 30 or even 50 that’s just not the case.

I sent flowers and candy to mom for arrival on Mother’s Day. I’ll try to phone her Sunday but she doesn’t usually pick up the phone unless my brother has been there just a few minutes earlier and she’s expecting my call.

Mom, Linda and me, Folsom Lake, California

When I do talk with Mom she doesn’t seem depressed or sad. She’s not exactly happy, either. She’s in a bit of a fog though still present and responsive, if somewhat confused. She still tries to project enthusiasm and optimism though it’s not entirely convincing. Not to me, anyway. I know her; I am her.

She had a lot of roller coaster emotions in her life and seems to have smoothed them out.

She’s always happy to hear my voice and tells me so several times during each brief call. Then when we run out of things to say say too soon I tell her I love her she tells me she loves me too. She says it with the lucid fire of a mother’s heart.

Then she says goodbye and calls me Jim (my brother).

I always laugh about that. She sees my brother frequently so she gets us mixed up just a bit.

(Besides, when I was still a child and Mom was barely in her 30s she frequently called me Rusty, our dog’s name. So, brother Jim, you should feel honored.)

Sister Linda, Mom, Brother Jim A few years ago

Mom has always made me laugh. She still has a sharp and sophisticated sense of humor that stabs through the fog of her slowly fading existence.

My late dad taught me to be confident, proud and respectful. Mom gave me my sense of humor and optimism.

“This can be a good day or a bad day, it’s all up to you.”
— Nancy Williams

I don’t know when she first told me that but it stuck. I’m sure she said it when I was a very young school boy lying in bed on an early school morning in North Highlands, California. I have never forgotten it.

When she passes I will cry but I’ll also have a  huge, stupid smile on my face.

She taught me to laugh and to love my life.

Hug (and pay) a teacher

“He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.”
— George Bernard Shaw, “Man and Superman”

Leave it to an ill-tempered playwright and social activist to intentionally twist the words of a master.

The original quote was:

“Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach.”
— Aristotle

BIG difference.

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day / Week.

I’ve been out of school for nearly 50 years but there isn’t a single day in my life that I don’t remember at least one of my school teachers with deep gratitude and affection, not only for my education but for the inspiration that shaped the person I have become.

And, I like me.

Teachers have never been called upon to be and do more than they are today. We’ve gotten to a point where they’re not only asked to be educators and know something of child psychology, they also need to be part family counselor, part lawyer and in an increasing number of school districts and states, part law enforcement officers.

At the same time teachers still get a ton of grief from hyper-critical parents and local communities living in fear from an increasingly complex and violent world. We’re scared and confused.

Regardless of our age we have always looked to teachers to make sense of our world and lead us in the right direction.

Work days for teachers usually begin before sunrise and never really end. They go home long after the class day is over to try to balance the needs of their families while correcting papers, making class schedules and answering emails from parents.

Teachers deserve more yet receive much less pay than most of us who have more forgiving and less demanding careers. They do it because they are passionate about their calling.

To teach is to create a better world one child at a time.

As we celebrate teachers we need to go beyond smiling and saying thanks. Ancient cultures revered teachers equal to spiritual leaders and healers. We need to get back to that level of appreciation and to provide teachers with the salaries and benefits they richly deserve.

Remember your teachers with love and gratitude, even the ones you didn’t like when you were just a dumb kid.

And thank your children’s teachers at every opportunity. They’re helping your kids create their world in ways you cannot.

Swamp cooler days

It’s raining today in North Texas. I love rain and dark, cloudy days.

Me slurping from our garden hose on a hot day.

Most people I know worship the sun. They seem to like summer best of all and the hotter it gets the better. I don’t get it. Summer was great when I was a kid, impervious to sweat and grime, running barefoot through neighborhood lawn sprinklers and slurping from any old hose lying around because that’s what they were for.

We didn’t have air conditioning when I was a kid. We had a swamp cooler on the roof that blew semi-cool, very humid air directly into the middle of the hallway between the living room and kitchen in our house. I used to lie my bare tummy on chilly asbestos tiles right under the swamp cooler, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts fashioned by my mother’s scissors applied to an old set of blue jeans.

A new picture of an old wooden clothes rack like the one we had in the hallway.

I stayed there for hours on the hall floor with a stack of Dennis the Menace and Sad Sack comic books for entertainment.

Sometimes I took the pillow from my bed and put it on the floor next to my comic books. That was “the life of Riley”, as we called it in those days.

(I still don’t know why.)

Mom had to step over me to hang wet laundry on the clothes rack She didn’t mind. Sometimes she gave me my lunch there, peanut butter and grape jelly on Wonder white bread. I had to eat  it fast so it didn’t dry out from the wind.

Me with my sister, Linda, and our faithful collie, Rusty.

I wish I had pictures of all these things: me, my pillow, PBJ and comics. Sometimes my collie, Rusty, would lie down with me for a couple of minutes. He liked the cool floor but I don’t think he cared for the overhead wind.

For the past fifty or more years I’ve been able to enjoy and expect indoor air conditioning.

Now in my mid-sixties I don’t need to strip down to my shorts and lie on the floor under a swamp cooler.

That’s progress.

I still like summer for its memories of all-day baseball, ice cream trucks, slip ‘n slides and hot days that wouldn’t end until bed time. I loved childhood.

These days I prefer old man comforts, winter and the temperate yet crazy weather days of spring and fall in Texas.

Dark skies and rain feel cozy to me. They call people like me pluviophiles.

I’m glad they have a name for it. I just thought I was weird.

The ugly truth about Texas

Abilene, Abilene,
Prettiest town I’ve ever seen… – Waylon Jennings, “Abilene”

Hold it right there, Hoss. We need to talk.

I’ve been a proud and happy Texan for more than six years now so I figure I can step out and tell the one truth about this wonderful state nobody ever mentions.

Ain’t nothing pretty about it. Not in the conventional landscape sense, anyway.

The Western singers croon about the stars at night and yellow roses. The closest anyone ever comes to praising the view of the land is found in romantic visions of historic cattle drives and ancient buffalo herds. Even then nobody ever says the land is pretty. It ain’t. It’s a harsh land with cruel challenges.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know: in the entire, monster size state of Texas there is only one natural lake, Lake Caddo. And half of that is in Louisiana.

Big Bend National Park

Oh, I know there are prettier parts of Texas than what I’ve seen so far. I’ll admit I’ve never been to the glorified Big Bend National Park but I’ve seen all the pictures Google has to offer and while it does seem to possess a lot of fascinating geological features there is nary a tree to be found and many of the pretty swimming holes in the pictorials are dry much of the year. When they’re not dry they are cautions for swimmers because they can contain deadly water moccasins and other natural vermin.

So, enjoy the pictures but keep your kids out of the water.

I took this at sundown just outside of Westin, Texas. Gorgeous sky but the land is unremarkable.

Most of the pretty photos you see of Texas are taken at sunrise or sundown. Texas magazines and blogs are full of sunrises and sunsets. I’ve posted many myself. I dare say you can take a picture of the sun on the  horizon in the Sahara Desert, the Australian Outback or even Nevada and it will look lovely. That’s an astronomical effect, not the land itself.

Don’t misunderstand, I love Texas, I really do. More than anything else Texas is an attitude, a can-do spirit worn on the relaxed, happy smiles of everyone you meet. In Texas we don’t want no gubmint interference. We’ll give you the shirts off our backs, a good meal and a place to sleep. Tomorrow you’re on your own and we’ll wish you good luck.

That’s the Texas I know and love.

Texas kids are happy. well-behaved and polite.

People of all ages and races tip their hats and give you a howdy. They hold open the door for you at the Mini Mart. They call you Sir and Ma’am even though they don’t have to. They’re always smiling because it’s the decent way to be. It’s Texan.

Above all, folks in Texas are outgoing and friendly. If you’re in a  line with  three strangers at the grocery store you’ll be swapping recipes by the time you get to the checkstand. And they always lace their conversations with deep Texas humor even when they talk about the scenery.

In a word, it’s flat.

“West Texas is a place where you can stand on the porch and watch your dog run away for a week.” — Hal Jay, WBAP Dallas

I’m a native Californian. I grew up  with giant redwoods, the pine studded forests of the high Sierra and the  cold, rocky coastline of the Pacific Ocean north of Mendocino. I miss all that but everything in life is a trade-off.

So, I’ll romanticize tumbleweeds blowing across I-20 from Midland to Odessa because it’s the most exciting thing you’ll see there. And it can be pretty at sunrise.

Photo by Tim Gilliland

In Texas we have longhorn cattle lying contentedly in green groves of Blue Bonnets, though the wild flowers are only there for a month each spring. You’ve seen hundreds of pictures like this.

We have the world’s best barbecue and Tex-Mex cuisine, honky tonks and Texas swing;  we got the Alamo, the Dallas Cowboys, Willie, Larry McMurtry and Dan “his ownself” Jenkins.

Cypress trees wearing old man beards of moss. Beautiful. Keep an eye out for gators and cottonmouths.

There’s a lot to love about Texas but not the view. People wax eloquently about Hill Country but you’ll never hear the word “mountain” in a description of the state. Even the haunting piney forests and bayous of East Texas, where ghostly cypress trees grow out of the swamps wearing old man beards of moss is merely west Louisiana.

I’m writing this in Abilene. Not only is it not the prettiest town I’ve ever seen, if you blindfolded me and spun me around and dropped me into the middle of it I might guess I was in Waco or Waxahachie, Dime Box or Gun Barrel City.

And I guess that’s the real beauty of Texas. It’s one place in time like all the others in the Lone Star State. It’s all different yet the same and it’s a lot of different people a whole lot alike.

Sweetness and attitude.

And you can call them country and they don’t care
And if you don’t like the way they wear their hair
You can take your like and shove ’em on up the line
People in Texas don’t care if the sun don’t shine

— Charlie Daniel, “Texas”

Willie Nelson, CarolAnn and me

“If America could sing with one voice it would be Willie’s.”
– Emmylou Harris

When I met Willie in person I froze. I literally couldn’t open my mouth to speak.

It was in the late 1980s in the Dan Russell Rodeo Arena in Folsom, California. When Willie finished his last song he did something that blew our minds: He put down his guitar, stepped down from the stage and walked through the dirt right into the crowd of his worshipers wearing that famous crinkly-eyes, half-crooked smile.

He stayed out there, signed autographs and chatted with folks until we all finally dragged ourselves back to our cars for the happy drive home.

I don’t remember if I shook his hand but I think not. I just stood stupidly next to my hero while my wife asked him to autograph our tickets, which he did. Then she asked Willie if I could phone him the next morning for a short live interview on my radio show. He smiled and nicely explained that he’d like to but his bus would be hitting the road as soon as he got back in it.

(This was in the early days of cell phones, once you got out of town you could forget about talking to anyone. He’d be long gone by tomorrow.)

I never said a word. I literally couldn’t find my voice and I don’t regret it. I had stood beside him for a few minutes while he chatted with my wife. I’m pretty sure that’s about as much live interaction with Willie Nelson that I could handle.

I was happy.

I’ve seen Willie and his family four times, I think.

He’ll turn 85 next week and I need to see him again before the time slips away.

 

Read any good movies lately?

Do you ever watch foreign films or TV with subtitles?

Until a little more than a year ago I always said I don’t want to read a movie. I want to watch the scenery and the faces of the actors. And, I’ve always wondered what I was missing when a long piece of dialogue spoken in a foreign language is boiled down to just a short sentence or a few words. A character in the show may rattle off a three minute soliloquy but the caption at the bottom of the screen simply reads, “I agree” or “Right on, dude!”

Actual screenshot of my TV with captioning on. This character in a story set 300 years ago is calling someone “a dork”.

Sometimes the translators who write the captions don’t really have a handle on American English, especially slang and cultural references that don’t suit the time period of the movie.

These things always bugged me until last year when my wife, the lovely and feisty CarolAnn Williams, turned me on to Korean TV.

I don’t remember how she came across the TV channel, Dramafever. She’s not Korean. She doesn’t have any Korean relatives or friends and has never been to that part of the world but Korean TV shows have no sex, violence or bad language. The comedies are whimsical to the point of innocent absurdity and the dramas are skillfully produced with quirky plot twists. CarolAnn loves them. It’s practically all she watches. And now I watch them with her.

Together we enjoy the many Korean historical dramas of the Joseon dynasty which dates back to 1392. These are tales based upon real kings and queens who lived three or four hundred years ago, of battling royal consorts and political factions plotting to grab power. Wars are waged with swords and arrows; fights involve a lot of shouting and flashy martial arts, our heroes flipping high in the air for no apparent reason before they kick three guys at once.

(In Korean historical dramas once you’ve been kicked to the ground you’re out of the fight, the same as dead.)

I looked them up: “Comminate” – To threaten with vengeance. “Scapegrace” – A mischievous rascal. (These days we’d probably say, “asshole”.)

The plots are engaging, the acting is generally excellent and the costumes are colorful and fun.

Best of all, those subtitles are sometimes hilarious. And sometimes they actually expand our English vocabulary.

And along the way we’ve learned a Korean word or two. For example:

“Pyeha, paliga yeollyeo issseubnida!”

Which means, “Your majesty, your fly is open!”

Of music and noise

I don’t listen to music very often. When I do it has my full attention.

Everywhere we go these days we hear music in the background: in malls, restaurants, grocery stores, theater lobbies; even outdoor city sidewalks have music poured onto them like some sort of sweet, gooey corporate confection.

When I ride in a friend’s car and he has the radio turned on very low I want to reach over and shut it off. Or, turn it up and stop talking.

Elevators and telephone on-hold music are the worst, of course. That’s satanic torture, mind-numbing and inescapable.

What idiocy have we subscribed to? Why must we be soothed, excited or pummeled by music everywhere we go?

Most of the time I just want the world to be quiet. Silence is bliss. It’s the only way I can hear myself think.

When I want to hear music I decide which music, when, where and how.

And then I will actually listen to it, giving it my full attention and allowing it to fill me.

I love music. It deserves more respect than ambient noise.