Serotonin Coursing In My Brain

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Every year in October the Houston Garden Society hosts a Bulb and Plant Mart. I’ve gone to each event since I retired from working full time. Last year was somewhat dreary because COVID-19 was raging, and so the gala consisted only of picking up pre-orders on a gray and rainy day. This year things were better. The sun was out. Many people were vaccinated. Cases of COVID-19 were down in Houston. Thus there was a green light for celebrating the event in all its usual glory. 

The Houston Bulb and Plant Mart is one of my favorite days of the year. It has changed locales over time, but of late it has been held at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church. Vendors offer all sorts of plants known to do well in Houston’s gumbo soil and humid climate. They have entire areas of ferns of every variety and plants that attract butterflies. They feature native plants that grow and multiply naturally without any effort. There is one of the best selections of herbs that I have ever seen. Best of all are the many kinds of bulbs like daffodils, irises, ranunculus, and amaryllis. 

I began purchasing amaryllis bulbs since ten years ago. They tend to be rather expensive, so I can only afford two or three a year. I have planted them along the fence line in my backyard and each spring they burst forth in all their glory. It literally makes me smile to think of how lovely they will be when March and April come around, no matter how cold it has been or how little or how much it has rained. They faithfully burst forth in blooms of red, pink, orange and white. 

I’ve also enjoyed irises from the market that I plant in the wet areas of my yard. Most are native to Louisiana and they thrive in a shaded and damp environment. They are as regal when they bloom as orchids but they take little or no work on my part to grow. They also spread over time, so one plant can lead to a profusion of blooms. 

I also have a penchant for ferns, as does my husband. My love of ferns began with a plant that a friend gave me when my second child was born. From that one gift I filled my backyard and many pots with a hardy fern that came from New Orleans. When I moved I did not think to dig up some of my beauties and bring them to my new home, but that same friend made a trip to New Orleans to get me some more. I now have two huge pots of the delicate fronds that will need to be divided next spring. I love those plants not just because they are so lovely, but also because they came from an act of kindness and thoughtfulness from mydear Linda. 

This year at the Bulb and Plant Mart I purchased more amaryllis bulbs, three new kinds of fern, some more iris bulbs and a wonderful angel leaf begonia. I will be planting for days which is enchanting to me. I literally feel the serotonin of happiness pulsing through my brain whenever I am working among my plants. Plunging my hands in the soil to position my bulbs feels like heaven. Being one with the earth is a fabulous. 

I’ve often thought of actually joining the Houston Garden Club, but I don’t have enough time to get all of my writing and teaching and  sewing and gardening and traveling done as it is. I would have to give something up and right now I can’t think of what that might be. Still, I like the sort of people who hang around plants just as much as I do those who hike in the mountains or camp under the stars. I feel a kinship with them. Plants bring us together at least once every year in October. On that day nobody is a stranger and smiles abound even if they are hidden behind masks and only seen in the twinkling of eyes. 

I joked with one of the ladies this year that I was becoming my grandmothers. Both of them spent time everyday puttering in their gardens. They kept rain barrels and created compost heaps to nurture their flowers and trees and vegetables. They wore rubber boots as they trudged around the yard with floppy hats protecting them from the sun. They were always so happy in their little Edens. I always loved seeing them there but I never dreamed that I would one day share their passion for growing things. 

October warns me to prepare for winter. I clear a place in my garage to store my plumerias and my orchid plant. I watch the weather reports carefully so that I know when I must move all of my fragile potted plants inside the warmth of my kitchen. I have plant blankets to cover my citrus and my least cold hardy varieties. I care for my beauties the way I would a special pet. 

The Bulb and Plant Mart reminds me to get ready for Old Man Winter and it is always as wonderful as usual. This year they even had a section housing a lovely kind of garage sale. There were wooden chests, table linens, wooden desk sets, crystal and china. As I have noted before I have so much of that sort of thing that I dared not bring anything else into my home, but I surely enjoyed window shopping and admiring what was there. 

I’ll be back at the Plant and Bulb Mart again next year if all goes well. It’s one of those glorious events that, for me, are just as wonderful as Christmas and even better than Halloween.   

The Greatest of All Time

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So Houstonians are feeling rather good today. Our Astros have overcome the jeers and hateful comments to become the American League champions headed to the World Series. There is great joy in H Town, Clutch City, Space City or whatever you wish to call the place where I was born. There’s even more in my heart because I happen to know that there was never a more faithful and loyal Astros fan than my mother. 

Mama was never much of a sports fan for any team other than the Texas A&M University Aggies when I was a child. She’d listen to all of their football games on the radio with my father and his Aggie buddies. She’d tell stories of watching the team practice for games and then running to the train station to meet them after away games. She knew all the cheers and school songs and engrained them into our little minds even long after my father had died. I can still see her humped over singing the spirit of Aggieland or the Aggie War Hymn.

In the midst of Mama’s dedication to Texas A&M along came the Houston Astros. (Of course the real story is that they began as the Colt 45s and she was already hooked on them before the big name change.) Back then the Houston boys of summer played in the Astrodome and Mama had a friend with connections who invited to many of the games. Mostly though my mother listened to the play by play of the competitions on the radio or watched them when they occasionally appeared on television. She literally planned her life around those games, never failing to tune in to a single one year after year after year from the nineteen sixties to two thousand eleven when she left this earth.

Mama collected baseball cards and knew all of the statistics of the Astros players. She would lie in her bedroom listening to Mylo Hamilton describe each play, shouting with joy over each hit, home run, or perfect pitch. Of course she wanted the Astros to win but her loyalty to the team did not depend on success. She stuck with them even in the times when they had a hundred losses and they looked more like a little league team than a group of professionals. 

My mom puffed out with pride when her youngest grandson Ryan was named after one of her favorite players, Nolan Ryan. It almost seemed as though Ryan was born with orange blood in his veins and he and mama shared a special kinship over their love of the Astros. The two of them would talk baseball shop in a way that none of the rest of family mastered. 

My mother rarely saw an Astros game in person. Her budget never quite stretched far enough to purchase the tickets which slowly became more and more expensive. Now and again members of the family would an extra ticket and invite her along. The last time she was at the stadium in person she had a difficult time walking the long distance to her seat so we all knew that she would probably never be able attend a game with the joy and roar of the crowd ever again. 

It did not really matter to Mama that she was stuck at home listening to the games unfold. In fact she enjoyed her favorite past time. She had grown up listening to the radio in the thirties and forties. She knew how to imagine the sights of the ballpark inside her mind. When she came to live with me in the last year and a half of her life she would often retire to her room upstairs, lie on the bed and listen to the games. We would hear her shouting with joy over a home run or a really good play. 

She never invited us to join her. I think that listening to the Astros was her special thing, something that she loved to do more than anything else. She did not want to be distracted. This was serious business even as it was so much fun for her. It delighted me to know that she was finding so much joy from the simple pleasure of following the Astros season after season. 

eMy mother died from lung cancer in June of 2011. One of my brothers and I rushed her the the St. Luke’s Hospital emergency room one evening when she appeared to be having trouble breathing and staying awake. Her oxygen level was extremely low and she was on the verge of dying. We agreed to placed her on a ventilator long enough to determine what might be done to save her as well as to give members of the family time to come see her for what might be the last time. 

rWe had gathered around Mama in the ICU when Ryan arrived. Somehow his entrance jogged her memory and she realized that the Astros were playing a game on television that day. She could not talk with the ventilator, but she was using her own version of sign language to communicate with us. She pretended to pitch a baseball and then pointed to the t.v. in the room. Ryan instantly understood and turned on the game. Her eyes smiled as she and Ryan watched the action for what would be her final game. She died only a few hours later. 

My mother would be so excited on the ultimate success of the Astros. She might have been disappointed when they were accused of cheating, but they were always her boys and like any mother she would have loved them in spite of their transgressions. She would have been happy that they got a wonderful manager like Dusty Baker and that they were willing work their way back to the top again. I’d like to think that she was watching them play from heaven last Friday when they won the American League Championship and maybe even cheering along with Mylo Hamilton. The Astros and the rest of Houston may not know it, but with a doubt as Astros fans go she was the Greatest of All Time. Holy Toledo, they need to have her name in the fan Hall of fame.

Just Let It Go!

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When I first heard of the cheating scandal of the Houston Astros I did not believe it. The Astros were the good guys of baseball in my mind. They were also such a strong team that everyone knew that they did not have to resort to malfeasance to win. After all, they had just as many victories on the road as they did at home. When confessions came forth proving the accusations I was heartbroken, mostly because it tarnished the reputations of good people and also because it did not need to happen. I will always believe that the Astros would have won the World Series in 2017 without that ridiculous camera and trash can banging. I will forever be angry with the people who came up with such a ridiculous idea. 

It’s been four years now and the Astros have a new and honest coach, a good man with a sterling reputation. Many of the players from the 2017 team are gone. True to my beliefs they are still one of the strongest teams in baseball. They have not needed any extra advantages to dominate year after year. Therefore I think it’s time for everyone, especially the naysayers, to move on from dogging on the team as though they are the villains of baseball. There is such a thing in this world as contrition and reconciliation and I believe that the Astros have paid their dues and moved forward. The rest of the baseball world should do the same. 

I hear ugly comments about the Astros that include the entire city of Houston, as though every citizen in our city is guilty of some heinous crime. In truth ours is a town that few people will ever understand. We are an outlier in Texas and even the rest of the United States. We are the most diverse city in the country and we live together in harmony. We represent the future in a very good way. 

Houston is a town of hard working individuals who have always had to deal with insults from even the rest of our own state. We are often regarded as being the ugly city, the less refined city, the less cool city. That is, of course, untrue. We are in fact a very open and inviting city. We tend to embrace anyone who comes here and we have some of the most remarkable institutions in the country. 

There are four major universities in Houston each of which is doing incredible research and educational advances for our young. Our medical center is world class. We have outstanding art galleries, a wonderful symphony and a stunning ballet troupe. There are entertainment venues in multiple areas of town that attract artists from around the globe, not to mention the Alley Theater which is highly regarded for its live performances. In other words, Houston is home to renowned venuse of art and culture. 

The heart of Houston, however, is always revealed in times of disaster. We care for each other deeply in this city. People just naturally respond to the needs of those in danger or who need help fending for themselves. For years the people of Houston have been some of the most generous donors in the country for causes of all kinds like the Muscular Dystrophy Society. We are some of the first to open our pocketbooks to causes of every kind and our efforts for others are often unparalleled. 

When members of the media attack our teams and our fans as though Houston is a city of thugs and cheaters it is a gross misrepresentation of who we are and who the Astros are. It really is time that such ugly accusations stop. It may make for good television to create controversy but it also puts an entire city of good individuals into an inaccurate stereotype. 

Houston is not perfect and those of us who live there will admit that we have work to do. The traffic is horrific, but really no worse than in Dallas, Chicago or Los Angeles. We would do well to work more on renovating our infrastructures and beautifying all areas of town. We can’t do much about the heat and humidity but our seasons of fall and spring are generally spectacular. 

We have every sort of person that there is in the United States and still manage to get along. We are a hard working town that loves its children. We often mystify our state government with our voting patterns that do not always conform with their beliefs. We get by with a strong determination to allow people to be who they are. 

So let’s please get over the malicious attacks on our Astros and our city and its people. Let our team play ball and demonstrate that they really are champions. Be happy for us. We’ve had some hard luck but we keep coming back. If that’s not an all American story, then I don’t know what is. We are teaching the world what repentance is all about. That must surely be worth cheering for. It’s time to let the hate go away.

Gratitude

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Of late I have had the strangest dreams that are filled with images of family members and friends who have died. They seem to occur just before dawn, and while they make absolutely no sense, they are somehow disconcerting. I have an injured arm and I take a prescribed pill before retiring that may be the culprit in creating my nighttime dramas, or perhaps I am simply thinking about some of the people who meant so much to me in life. Sadly, I doubt that they ever knew the extent to which I was incredibly grateful to them. Somehow I never seemed to take the time to adequately express my feelings. I remember trying to do so in a generic letter on one occasion and I ended up receiving a flood of phone calls from people who were concerned that something was wrong with me. I suppose that we humans are a bit unaccustomed to being showered with thanks for simply being ourselves. We become a bit embarrassed, uncomfortable with public announcements about the positive contributions that we make to society. Most people just quietly do their good works without any expectation of gratitude. Some of those folks have been showing up in the nightly dramas that are creeping into my mind of late. 

I have been quite fortunate to be surrounded by incredibly generous people for all of my life. My parents were always kind and loving. While I only had a brief time with my father it was enough to observe and understand his thoughtfulness and loyalty to family and friends. My mother was a true saint. Literally every thought and action she made was for others. In spite of a life so difficult that it would have broken most souls, she remained optimistic and happy save for the times when the chemicals in her brain created chaos in her mind. She literally sacrificed her entire life for my brothers and me and for her mother and her siblings. She was the very definition of unconditional love. 

I have countless stories of unselfishness from my grandparents and aunts and uncles. My grandmother Minnie is still the angel who watches over me. My grandfather William taught me how to tell a good story and gave me a most excellent male role model after my father died. He watched over me and I delighted in just being in his presence. It was my Aunt Valeria who was there for me on the day my father died and every single day thereafter. My Uncle William was the sweet man who most understood my grief on that horrible day. My Aunt Polly seemed to know exactly what I needed to hear at frightening times in my life. My Uncle Jack was my hero. My Uncle Paul was a silent hero who demonstrated his love for my family without fanfare or recognition. My Uncle Louie and Aunt Maryann introduced me to the young man who would become my forever companion. My Uncle Andrew awkwardly seemed to think that I was eternally a little girl that he needed to spoil. My Aunt Claudia, aka Aunt Speedy, was my idol, an icon of beauty and intellect who seemed in many ways to be my kindred spirit. 

During the years after my father’s death my cousins brought me unimaginable joy. The Friday evenings and Christmas Eve celebrations that I spent with them saved me from the depths of despair that lurked inside my heart. Our games and laughter and silliness together created a montage of beautiful memories that still make me smile. While I no longer see them as often as I once did, my love for them is profound. They are part of the foundation of my very soul. They are like extra brothers and sisters who complete my great big extended family.

I have had the most wonderful friends, beginning with my time in school. I remember meeting Judy, my forever idol, in the second grade. In that same year Lynda, became my best friend and to this very day we can talk for hours like two little girls excited about the world around us. I encountered Monica in that time and she became like the sister I never had. Carol and her twin Cindy showed me how to be confident and caring. Susan and Karen and Kathy were neighbors with whom I played and then grew into a woman. I was in awe of guys in my class like Jack and Terry and Tommy and Larry and Paul. Later I would find soulmates like Nancy and Linda with whom I could bare my soul and never feel embarrassed or judged. 

I entered the adult world and during the journey that seemed so long at the time, but now feels like the flicker of a single moment, I found more wondrous people who filled my life with joy. Some are still with me. Others are gone. Egon, Marita, Pat and Bill became like family to me. Adriana, Jenny, Maggie, Chrystal, Tricia, Aimee, Sharon, Angie were new sisters that I never expected to have. I found joy with Dee and Glenda and Stephanie that was such a delightful surprise. 

Then there are the members of my family starting with my very best friend, Mike, my beloved husband, and beautifully complimented with my precious daughters, Maryellen and Catherine. Of course my mother-in-law, Mary, and father-in-law, Julio showed me a world that I had never before known and then when Mary died, sweet Janell came into my life as well. My sons-in-law, Scott and Jeremy, are good kind men and with my daughters they have given me the most fabulous grandchildren anyone might ever wish to have. Andrew, Jack, Ben, Eli, Ian, Abigail and William are my pride and my joy. I even got two wonderful new sisters, Becky and Allison, along with nieces and nephews, Kim, Daniel, David, Shawn, Ryan, Scott, Nathan, Julie, Katie, and Maria plus Lorelai, Birdie, Lex, Penny, Logan, Cody and Tyler.

Life was very difficult for me at many times but there were always people who came to my rescue just when I needed them. I know that I have left off many names. My students are not listed here, but they were and still are the loves of my life. Many of my work colleagues are not mentioned but they have appeared in the dreams of which I spoke. They inspired me and made me the person I am today. My teachers helped to educate and form me. The people at my church like Shirley and Judy embraced me. If I attempted to list every single person for whom I am thankful I would have a list many pages long. Still, I remember each and every moment when a person in my life touched my heart and saved me from despair, often at times when they had no idea what they had done for me. 

How do I possibly or adequately thank the countless souls who have played such important roles in keeping me happy, centered, certain that the world is a good place? There are no words, no gestures, no tributes that come even close to conveying my gratitude. Simply know that if at any time or in any place our lives have intersected you no doubt touched my heart and left me better than I might otherwise have been. I thank you for my beautiful life and want you to know that my love for you is unending.    

She Was One of the Best

I never cared much for science in school. Biology involved way too much memorizing of terms and Physics was impossible for my brain to actually visualize. I enjoyed Chemistry because it was like a beautiful puzzle where all the pieces seemed to fit nicely together. Only once did I have a teacher who made me feel excited about science and that was in what we called Junior High back in my day. That’s when I encountered an educator named Mrs. Colby, a delightful woman with so much passion about all things related to science that her fervor was contagious, and I caught the bug. 

I was in Mrs. Colby’s class during the early days of space travel when flights lasted only minutes and technology was still rather crude. NASA was being built in Houston and the original astronauts were buying homes down in the Clear Lake area while being feted around town as heroes. For a time there was a temporary NASA facility not far from the school where I listened to Mrs. Colby rapturously explaining how the rockets that would carry them into space actually worked. It was the first time in my life that I actually cared about such things. 

We learned about our own atmosphere and what it meant to travel fast enough to break through our protective covering of oxygen into the weightlessness of space where there is no air. Mrs. Colby made all of those facts sound incredibly fascinating like science fiction that had somehow become real. I remember feeling a sense of history and great importance in her lessons, so I clung to her every word. 

One day she rolled a television into the classroom and prepared us to watch John Glenn become the first American to orbit the earth. She so giddy with excitement that I realized we were about to witness something quite extraordinary. I watched with the greatest anticipation and wonder that such a feat was even possible. I believed in that moment that Mrs. Colby was giving me a great gift of being part of something that I would remember for the remainder of my life. In that moment I thought that she was magnificent with her explanations of what was happening and her joy in humankind’s ingenuity. 

Mrs. Colby was a very rational woman who taught us to think. Perhaps that is what I remember most about her. She showed us the value of the scientific method and demanded proof for our hypotheses and statements. She spoke to us of the painstaking processes that led to great discoveries. She helped me to understand how very complex all systems are and how unraveling truth is critical to our existence. Somehow I don’t recall all of the facts that she taught us, but I do remember her admonishing us to be willing to look beyond the seemingly obvious by taking the time to do our research and apply logic to every situation. 

I never saw much of Mrs. Colby once I moved on to high school. I had classes with one of her sons, but never thought to ask him how she was doing even though I often felt so much gratitude for what she had taught me. The years passed and I lost track of her and her son. I often spoke of her and her influence on me and my memories of her were always so warm. At my fiftieth high school reunion I learned from her son that she was still alive and as passionate about the world as ever. It made me smile to think of her advancing into her nineties with her brilliant mind still observing the world around her. 

Last week Mrs. Colby left this earth for the great unknown. I’d like to think that she experienced some grand feeling of floating weightlessly into space toward new adventures in her next life. I imagine her analyzing her situation and wondering what made her transition possible. Like a true scientist I believe she would have been fascinated and delighted by the process and wishing that she had a way to tell us all about it. 

Some teachers leave a lasting impression on us. Mrs. Colby was one of those people for me. Junior High was a horrid time in my adolescent life. I felt awkward and lost in rather typical ways. For the most part seventh and eighth grade are enshrouded in a kind of fog in my mind. My math teacher in eighth grade terrorized me even though she was probably a nice lady. I can’t even remember anything about most of my other teachers. I waded through the gawkiness of those days with a kind of dread with the exception of the hours spent with Mrs. Colby. She broke through my self absorption and presented a way of viewing the world around me that was filled with optimism and possibilities. She focused my mind on the joys of learning and exploring and creating. She was in a word quite wonderful. 

I wish that I had been able to convey my deep appreciation to Mrs. Colby while she was alive. I suspect that few of us take the time to actually thank the educators who have meant the most to us. Mrs. Colby was that rare teacher who changed the trajectory of my life. For that I have always been grateful. I will never forget her and I hope with all of my heart that she is now resting in blissful peace. I’d like to believe that she is now on a grand adventure and finding answers to the many questions that she so often posed. Godspeed, Mrs. Colby. You were one of the best.