The 50th Wedding Anniversary Trip – 2004 I

In early March, I received an invitation from John and JoMargaret Farris requesting my presence at their Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary Celebration in Albuquerque. The gathering was to be mainly a family affair with a smattering of close friends from the Duke City and the Far East (the New York City area). My honored inclusion in the celebration was that I was second cousin removed from John. In genealogical terms, John’s mother and my grandmother were sisters. I immediately e-mailed them saying, “Count me in.”

The timing for making just such a trip couldn’t have been better. Since the first of the year, I had been on a watercoloring blitz, the majority of which just happened to be Southwest landscapes in New Mexico and Colorado. Also, on a recent trip to my dentist, I found a November, 1930 issue of National Geographic in the waiting room with a special segment on the Big Apple. What a mother lode! I shared my treasure trove with Michael Neely, D.D.S. He had no idea it had been in the lobby. I said, “Hey Doc, would it be alright if I kept this issue?” He replied, “Why not. It seems to be very special to you.” I had to add, “You know, doctor’s and dentist’s offices are renowned for having outdated magazines in their waiting rooms, but this borders on the ridiculous.” He had a good laugh over that.

My prize had superb black and white photographs of architectural masterpieces, one in particular being the Chrysler Building. My juices were running. I thought of several friends who considered it to be their favorite. I replicated the photo in a black pigment gouache. I couldn’t have been happier with the results. I had three Chrysler prints matted and framed at the near-by Michael’s Arts & Crafts store where Mom and son Ted’s gift certificates really helped out. It’s like the giving kept on giving – I got art supplies and frames, and in turn, was able to donate my artwork in perpetuity. I packed no less than sixteen framed prints under the bed in Ol’ Blue, all carefully wrapped in Dallas Morning Newsnewsprint. Well, what did you expect, Christmas wrapping? It was that time of year when one should anticipate any kind of weather, so I threw in everything from P-Coat and sweaters to cutoffs and T-shirts. On Saturday, April 10th, a week before the Big Event, I was ready to haul ass.

My first stop was Charlie and Judy’s house in Coppell, a grand 22 miles down the road. He met me out in the driveway and appeared to be a little uptight. It seemed as though his soon-to-be in-laws (his son and their daughter were engaged) were in town, unbeknownst to me, and they had reservations that evening at a Chinese restaurant. Sympathetically, I said to him, “Hey, Charlie, don’t sweat the small things. I’ll just hang here while you guys go have your dinner. It’ll be cool.” Finally, he acquiesced, saying, “Yeah, I’m making a big deal out of nothing. Sure, you’re welcome to join us. Besides, I’m picking up the tab.” Then I gave the Lamberts a matted and mounted print of the Chrysler Building. It blew his skirt up over his head, figuratively speaking. It didn’t bother me that it was unframed because Charlie was accustomed to doing his own framing, and he was damn good at it. I had seen samples of his craftsmanship complimenting previous prints I had given him.

The dinner was a cornucopia of Chinese cuisine with an unusual appetizer (for me, anyway) consisting of iceberg lettuce wrapped around ground bits of beef. It was a raucous table with Sam and Kathleen Phillips (the future in-laws) at one end, and Charlie, Judy, son Chun, and I at the other end, with Sarah (Chun’s fiancé) and her sister Heather and her husband Mark filling in the middle. It was a grand evening. To top it off, Charlie out-stumbled Sam for the check. Sam was very obliging. I felt honored to be a part of the celebration. Back at the house, I retired to Ol’ Blue under a misty and cool night — perfect sleeping weather.

I awoke to a 50 degree morning with a light drizzle. Sam and Kathleen dropped by around noon for a short visit before returning to Houston. As we talked, all of a sudden I noticed the Phillips had a crisp, Midwestern accent. I was right-on — they hailed from the Pittsburgh area. I said, “Pennsylvania has always been one of my favorite states, you know, the Keystone State, the Transportation State, home of the first turnpike in the 1940s, the first oil discovery in the 1870s, and the great Pennsy Railroad. And, to boot, it has the largest Amish population in the country.” I wasn’t trying to impress them with my trivia mush, but it was rather like throwing kindling on the fire to incite them to talk about their home state. I just liked meeting and talking with people from other parts of the country.

Charlie and I settled down in the TV parlor and I just happened to mention that the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta was in its final day. Not being an aficionado of golfdom, he seemed to be as interested in it as watching a bowling match. I said, “Look, Charlie, trust me. This is the most prestigious golf tournament of the year on the most beautiful course anywhere. Let’s give it a shot, okay?” Well, it turned out to be one of the most enjoyable afternoons with a dear friend than I can remember. While watching the final nine holes wind down, I asked, “What do those signs you see on rural roads near a town that read `No Jake Brakes’ mean?” He answered, “Truckers cannot gear down and use the engine to brake.” I said, “Oh, it’s to cut down on noise pollution like near a residential area or a hospital zone, right?” Charlie was my mentor when it came to mechanics. After admitting my ignorance as to why diesel engines did not require spark plugs, he embarked on a visual description of engine working parts, using his huge farm hands to emulate pistons, cylinders, camshafts, and whatnot. The bottom line was that diesels used an extremely hot air intake to “explode” and drive the pistons down, then releasing the air through an exhaust chamber, or something like that. I was mesmerized.

By now, Charlie was finally showing some interest in The Masters as it was turning out to be a real cliffhanger. I tried to perpetuate his curiosity in the tournament by commenting, “You know, these networks (CBS) do super camera work, shifting live shots from tees to fairways to greens. They really keep the .action moving. Hell, it moves faster than baseball.” To top it all off, Phil Mickelson, the crowd favorite (and mine, too), came from five strokes back with a string of birdies on the back nine, and then rolled in a 15 ft. birdie putt on the 18th to win his first major in 42 tries. I practically leaped from the couch.

What a Finish! Charlie agreed it was well worth watching. I couldn’t help gloating a little, saying, “See, I told ya’ it would be a great finish. It usually is.” While we were still in the TV room, his daughter Brandy came by for a short visit, Again, Charlie got a little disturbed, but I won’t elaborate on their family problems in respect for their confidentiality. I’ll just add that Charlie and Judy were temporarily taking care of Brandy’s kids — three-year old son Matthew and eleven-year old daughter Casey. Judy loved having them around, but, as she put it, “They’re running me ragged.” As the All My Children daytime drama unfolded, Brandy’s hubby Jay dropped in. Charlie had told me about his history of being abused as a child, not having a college education, and being a self-taught plumber. I had to finally shake his hand, saying, “Jay, from what your father-in-law has told me, I really admire you for all the adversities you’ve had to overcome. God bless you.” He gave me an obliging smile.

After Brandy left, without any anticipated turmoil we retired to the kitchen countertop for a late night confab. I thanked the Lamberts for letting me share Easter Sunday with them. I had to say, “I’ve always thought of Easter being more significant than Christmas, which after all was just a birthday, albeit the most celebrated birth of any human on earth. On the other hand, Easter is the observance of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God so that we mortals would have life ever after. I guess that sums it all up.” They wholeheartedly agreed. Then Charlie led Matthew upstairs to read him his customary bedtime story. Judy said, “That’s the last we’ll see of Charlie. He’ll be asleep before he finishes the story (he was afflicted with narcolepsy). Judy and I kept up a conversation, mainly about her erstwhile involvement as a consultant for drug and alcohol abuse patients. It was after midnight when we finally said goodnight. What a beautiful Easter day it had been with my friends!