Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for January 2013

Updates on Screen Door Jesus and Vinny

with 6 comments

Aging nicely for a 1969 Polaroid

Aging nicely for a 1969 Polaroid

This has been an exciting and eventful weekend for Commuter Chronicles with a couple of important followups to recent columns. First up, the great grandson of the former owner of the house behind the Western Auto where Jesus appeared on the screen door in 1969 commented on “Remembering Jesus and Dollie.” Mitch filed this as a comment but I wanted to emphasize it a bit. Many of us who’ve followed the legend of the screen door know some of this information to an uncertain degree. It feels more official coming from a related source. All very interesting and worth a read.

Also, I got Big Johnny to do an official scan of my personal Polaroid that was recaptured from display on my mom’s dresser at least 30 years after the event itself. He’s done a bit of an artsy job so that you can see the quality of this wonderful memento of my past that is cherished as much as a treasure from my mom as well as the event itself.   Here’s the update:

Jesus appeared more than once on the screen door

01/25/2013: That’s my Great Grandmother Lela Bass’s house. She was a very devout Pentecostal woman. This is so cool to read. I was unaware of the movie. I’ll have to check it out. All my friends from Port Neches Groves Elementary have brought this up on Facebook and we’ve had some really cool discussions about it. People from all over the world as far away as China and Australia came to see it. She had a book for visitors to sign. I drove by and visited the new owner last year, 2012, Grandmother’s place looks very different in the back now. The screen door is in storage I’m told, but the fig tree that sheltered the door & was nearly torn down from all the people climbing it for photos remains and is healthier and bigger than any I’ve ever seen. in 1969, The University of Texas took the screen door down, with Grandmother’s permission and ran tests on it. The image disappeared while they had it but reappeared when they placed back on her home. I would love to see the door again now that I’m 50. I was only 7 when all this happened. Thanks for posting this. All the best friend, God Bless. Ps. My family & I would so enjoy seeing any photos you have of the door. I have to go to my mothers now and revisit this and see if I can post some pics. Of note too, the image would change. Sometimes Jesus had a crown of thorns, sometimes facing left etc. sometimes a cross appeared, angels and moreVinny and me. Awesome!
Mitch Goody, Orlando, FL

Vinny gets the greenlight for more commutes

Then, let’s raise a glass to the heartiness of a true Road Warrior. Vinny passed inspection without even a hiccup. At 172,589 miles, he’s got another year in him. I feel 200,000 coming for us. I’m a bit worried about the change of weather because his air conditioning seems to be on the fritz. But the heater feels fine. I’m thinking of celebrating with some flames or lightning decals on his valiant haunches. And, I’m afraid we may still need to have the talk about adding another brother to our stable. But not today; today we celebrate.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

January 27, 2013 at 6:11 pm

At the crossroads with Vinny

with 2 comments

The beloved and loyal Vinny

The beloved and loyal Vinny

Dear Vinny:

We are at a crossroads this month. I think about it most days but can’t bring myself to do anything about it.  It is time for your annual inspection, and I don’t know that you will get another year on the road without some costly repairs. Last year, when Dan the Car Repair Man called to say you passed, he was almost as ecstatic as me. I cried; Dan laughed.

“Looks like you’ve got another year, Ms. Hensley,” he said, chuckling deeply in his throat, and he went on chuckling while I laughed and cried and punched the air all around me. This from a hearty manly man who has been my mechanic long enough to recognize my voice at the first syllable.  Of course, we do bring him cigars and cookies at Christmas — appealing to all ranges of car shop interests.

Now, as you, my dear Vinny, near 175,000 miles and more than 10 years as my Road Warrior, I am severely attached to your company. I know you have almost always had that disgusting egg baked into places on your hood where only I can see it. Sure, the lining in your ceiling is falling in a bit. You have that crinkle in your left back bumper. I know I can only have heat on high and maybe no air conditioning at all come summer. But I love you, man.

You have been my companion through thick and thin; flood and drought; traffic and straightaway. I don’t know how I will ever maneuver Houston without you. You got me home in four feet, five feet of flood when lesser drivers and vehicles were stranded in the intersection. The time the railroad arm came down on us and we dragged it through the streets, undeterred. The medians we’ve straddled when we needed to make a quick turnaround. The curbs we’ve taken when we drifted a bit to the right, a little to the left.

We’ve survived four rear-enders together, driving away every time while lesser cars like Lexus and Mercedes had to be towed, including one who was driven by a heart surgeon (Gotta love a wreck in the medical center for the quality of crashers and crashees.) And remember that time I came into the garage too quickly and crumpled your front end. Or the time I drove away with the gas nozzle still in your tank – once, twice, perhaps three or four times.

Remember when we cross-countried to Lubbuck to see Laura while she was still at Texas Tech? How many times did we go West together like the cowboys we are?  And the wonderful pieces of concrete art we would find and haul home in your spacious “way back.” Oro-cito – the once golden Griffin, now verde, like his brother, Verdecito. The horned toad, the second one. The snail we named for Paul McCartney (not quite a walrus) but who later lost an antenna and now hides in the back of the beyond. The skinny tall hound that reminds me still of my beloved German short-haired Andy who has been gone for too long while you remain with me.

HoPatsy, Paul and Andy in their younger days. Caption: They have landed."w many kids and friends and tennis teams have we hauled together? Four comfortably, five just last week. And, in your younger days, more kids than a clown car can fit.

The very worst possible scenario is that you will be retired as the stallion you are to live in the garage until you are called on to haul cargo instead of passengers. I will not part with you. No one else could possibly know your reliability or pay high enough for your loyalty.  But, unfortunately for you, I am a true Texan and can’t survive a Houston summer without some real AC.

Love always, your sincere and familiar Commuter Chronicler.

Patsy, Paul and Andy in their younger days. Caption: They have landed.”

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

January 21, 2013 at 10:11 am

leave a comment »

I’m reposting, this time with the original Polaroid as it resides in my wallet with the rest of my mojo.


As a romantic and imaginative child who later became a journalist and a story teller, I must admit to hyperbole. I have many stories in my repertoire that have been repeated often enough to gauge audience reaction. I’ve learned to draw out the interesting parts with clearer and more vivid descriptions or pause at the right spot for surprise or anxiety. In other words, I’ve punched up the punch lines.

This is not true of the story of Jesus’s appearance on the screen door of the house behind the Western Auto in my hometown of Port Neches in 1969 – even though that story sounds far more unbelievable than most of my old police reporter experiences. Like the times I was shot at, stumbled on dead bodies or got to the house of a murderer before the cops. Not to mention the Texas state representative who had his cousin shoot…

View original post 586 more words

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

January 16, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Remembering Jesus and Dollie

with 4 comments


Jesus lives in the mojo that resides in my wallet at all times including family photos and Springsteen’s autograph from “Ghost of Tom Joad.”

As a romantic and imaginative child who later became a journalist and a story teller, I must admit to hyperbole. I have many stories in my repertoire that have been repeated often enough to gauge audience reaction. I’ve learned to draw out the interesting parts with clearer and more vivid descriptions or pause at the right spot for surprise or anxiety. In other words, I’ve punched up the punch lines.

This is not true of the story of Jesus’s appearance on the screen door of the house behind the Western Auto in my hometown of Port Neches in 1969 – even though that story sounds far more unbelievable than most of my old police reporter experiences. Like the times I was shot at, stumbled on dead bodies or got to the house of a murderer before the cops. Not to mention the Texas state representative who had his cousin shoot him for the sympathy vote and later admitted to me that he’d been hiding from the sheriff in a speaker cabinet. All these stories get knowing nods far quicker than the vision of Jesus on the screen door.

And, in fact, during my college days when I was attempting to acquire some sophistication, I never revealed this huge event from my past to my newspaper contemporaries – many of whom had high powered educations, came from generations of East Coast founding families and were in Texas and the South for the first time. It seemed to me like I would have been laughed out of the newsroom with such a story.

Jesus again

The image of Jesus appeared in Port Neches on the house behind the Western Auto in 1969.

After my year-end column and a mention of this event in a recent blog, I’ve had a few readers ask about it. Thus, I’m repeating some information and posting some pictures from the day back in 1969. Before my high school classmate Christopher Cook became famous for writing the story of “Screen Door Jesus” that later became a movie, I’m sure many of us from the old neighborhood considered writing about this unique event from our hometown. And, in fact, I was among them and have written the beginnings of a novel — only stopping when Chris beat me to it.But, as is the case with most of my stories, I had more fun doing the leg work than finishing the book. For instance, I returned to the old neighborhood, knocked on the door of the house behind the Western Auto and spoke to the new family there. No new information was revealed, but it gave me a “feel” for my writing.Most memorable to me is the rediscovery of my Polaroid of the image itself. This story reveals so much more about my mother’s personality than it ever reveals about the mystery of Jesus – both just as elusive to me at times.

So, I call up my mom, known by most as Dollie, about the turn of the century – say 1999 or 2000. This is a solid 30 years or more after Jesus appeared on the screen door. I was taking a shot in the dark, and it hit pay dirt. (Mixed metaphors, better than hyperbole?) Of course, Mom remembered, she said, and we attempted to figure out the year together. That’s when I realized it was during my junior high years and that surely I had a journal entry in my diary only to find out what a truly shallow teen-ager I was.

“Do you remember the Polaroids I had?” I asked her, and, again, she surely did.

“Do you think there’s a possibility we could lay our hands on them every again?” I asked.

And that’s when my mom, a survivor of the Great Depression, a country girl who once thought apples were a perfect Christmas present, a widow from the time she was 42 years old, told me that my Polaroids of Jesus could be found on display on top of her dresser in her bedroom at that very moment and 30 years after the event itself.

And, when I went to get them – leaving one for her – I found them right beside the Viking ship that I made in fourth grade – another five years before Jesus’s appearance. Treasures from the past and present all found homes in that dusty display. Thank heaven for my mom and for Jesus that I have proof of something that otherwise would seem unbelievable in my more pragmatic imagination of today.

Jesus and the crowds

Crowd who came to Port Neches

Jesus alone

This one shows a bit of the pretty little house.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

January 16, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Commuter Chronicles had 3,500 views in 2012

with one comment

WordPress has been a very intuitive blog vehicle for me, and I’ve enjoyed the experience of being a regular columnist again. I tell folks who think about blogging how easy it is, and I know they don’t always believe me. But, in this day and age, everyone can be a blogger. I can start a million more blogs if I want to and change the look and appeal anytime. It’s just that easy. I love our new technology and recommend we all embrace it. I’d read what you have to say.

I’ve actually written Commuter Chronicles longer than this year and this blog because I started it when I first started commuting to Houston about 15 years ago. I would write columns about my travels and experiences in Houston and send it back via email to my tennis team, book club and other friends in the ‘burbs – just for a laugh. It felt natural to me because I had been a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle and Detroit Free Press in my newspaper days. And that easiness of writing my thoughts stems from being a diarist starting when I was a kid. I would write every day in my Barbie diary about the events of every single day.  I may have mentioned before that I have written on every single page of three diaries from all three years of junior high. Should I ever become known for my serious work as a writer, my first act will be to burn those very shallow pages.

It is quite notable that in my hometown of Port Neches in the year 1969, Jesus’s image appeared on a screen door of the home located behind the Western Auto. As unbelievable as that sounds, it is true and people who lived in the area remember it well. It was huge news, made national television and Parade magazine. Like folks for miles around, I pilgrimaged to the newly formed shrine with the also recently invented Polaroid camera to take a photo of the image of Jesus. That proof remains in my wallet and on my person at all times to this day.

I tell you of this weighty event to create juxtaposition with my junior high diaries. There is not a single mention of Jesus on those pages. Instead, you can find every girlfriend and every boyfriend who called me that night, what we talked about and what I was thinking about wearing to school the next day. Those diaries are just that embarrassing.

Now that I can blog, it’s especially better than my old newspaper days. The reasons are

  • I have no editor. I was an editor and a writer and always a control freak. As a reporter, I didn’t love being edited. As an editor, I didn’t love not being the writer. The current symbiosis that everyone can be a writer is fine with me.
  • I get to write about anything I want to write about.
  • I get to take my own photos like I did in the Beaumont Enterprise days. (Or else the famous Big Johnny gets to take even more beautiful photos with his fancy, smancy lens.)
  • I have no deadlines and can arbitrarily post whenever I feel like it.
  • Folks can immediately respond to anything I write, and we can start a dialog about something we’re thinking.
  • And, thank Jesus, I have no editor.

As an old-time journalist, I’m very intrigued by the easy statistics provided by WordPress. For instance, I can tell how many folks view the blog and how many different individuals read behind me. I worried for a while that most of my views were from me looking at the column myself but then figured out that I didn’t count. So, in the olden days, I knew my work was coming to your doorstep, but I didn’t know whether or not it immediately went into the birdcage or whether you just read the sports section.

I am reminded all of this because, at the beginning of the year, WordPress automatically sent me an annual report about how Commuter Chronicles went in 2012. Here’s the roundup:

  • Biggest news is that my blog received more than 3,500 views last year.
  • Also huge is that about 320 folks follow me on a somewhat regular basis.
  • Interestingly, viewers were from 31 different countries – mostly the United States, United Kingdom and Canada. But still, others. Who knew?
  • In 2012, I posted 61 columns; not bad for the first year and considering I didn’t start until March.
  • There were 220 pictures uploaded. Some in slideshows; some in galleries.
  • The busiest day of the year was July 24 when 100 different folks looked at my post on the same day. That most popular post was “Advice from my teen-aged self” that I wrote during my high school reunion and trip to Port Neches.
  • I got the most comments from readers on my column called, “A mystic passage home,” also written during my reunion week.
  • My regular readers get email messages when I post, but most others come from LinkedIn or Facebook.
  • Some people find me when they look for my name, bicycling columns or even the term “road warrior.”

I’m looking forward to more blogs in 2013 and plan to keep it light and fun. Life is too short to take it too seriously.  However, I do, in fact, have a few serious reflections in me and hope you will ride along with Commuter Chronicles through thick and thin. Sign on to follow; don’t miss out. Then, sign on to WordPress and start your own. It’s truly fun.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

January 11, 2013 at 8:47 pm