Driving and Biking in the Big City

Archive for November 2013

Remembering Marina, Kennedy and My Dad

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Charlie Bray

Charlie Bray

Of course I remember the day Kennedy was shot because it was only one month after my dad died. Thus, a romantic, imaginative 9-year-old watched funerals for two months — often confusing the two deaths and thinking the nation was mourning my loss.

We had spent the summer on the banks of the Angelina River as my dad helped to build Sam Rayburn Dam. I felt like the luckiest kid in the world that summer, picnicking every meal and swimming every day, even if my mom required me to wear a life jacket because of the deep, deep water.

My brother and I were like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, swinging the rope to the very middle of the muddy, muddy water where it was deep enough to float a tanker. I had cheese sandwich after cheese sandwich and went to sleep to the sound of owls and katydids. When he was home, my dad played checkers, dominoes and double solitaire with me. He never seemed to get tired of it and neither did I.


John Kennedy

Then we moved to the city of Jasper for school and he was dead by October at the age of 52 from “natural causes” of 1963 – meaning too much smoking of those unfiltered Camels, too much drinking of any kind of brown whisky and too much heart that caused him to be as angry as he was loving.

We moved from Jasper, back to my hometown of Port Neches where I was perhaps the only kid who didn’t have a two-parent family. At least it felt that way. I spent many years trying to blend in and not remind folks that I was different, but, of course, I was too different for it not to go unnoticed.

I don’t believe that experience made me any more obsessed than the rest of the nation 50 years later, but I’ve certainly read, visited and looked at anything to do with the Kennedy family since then. Most recently my family visited the Sixth Floor Museum (a structure I saw burned by protesters during the 1984 Republican National Convention when I was deputy city editor of the Dallas Times Herald) and then listening to the breathy tape recordings Jackie Kennedy made to the Warren Commission only two months after the assassination.

Marina Oswald Porter

Marina Oswald Porter

But I would be remiss not to mention that — only 20 years after the assassination — as a young reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, I was given the assignment of interviewing Marina Oswald Porter. I was the only reporter she talked to that year, a lot because of my persistence, certainly not because she had anything profound to say at that time.

She was 39, 10 years older than me, and I considered her quite mature and experienced. Remember, this is before I’d lived anywhere but Beaumont and Arlington. Heck, she was from Russia. I was in pretty deep with that simple fact. Add to it that her husband had killed Camelot, and I couldn’t have been more unprepared for her commanding presence.

The highlights are this: She still thought her husband was a lone gunman at that time in 1983. And she reminded me that she was a mere 19-year-old when her husband assassinated the president.

I can still see her face today as she leaned forward, locked eyes so carefully with me and said, “Who were you at 19?” Of course, I’m not that person and am sometimes shocked at the person I was compared to the person I became. “I’m not that person and neither or you,” she said.

I still have directions to her house with the swimming pool in the front yard. I suspect she’s redecorated from the stories I’m reading these days. You are welcome to join me for a road trip someday.


Vinny drives away into the sunset

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The beloved and loyal Vinny

The beloved and loyal Vinny

I’m a pretty sentimental person and a tragic romantic who fights daily to stay away from my Jerry Springer, drama-rama side that is my trailer park heritage. I have broken the cycle, haven’t I?  But today, I’m fighting away my emotional “hissy fit” at the loss of Vinny, my trusty steed and commuting companion of 10 years. Two of the local yard-doers, clearly all cleaned up to make an honorable impression and a good deal, surprised me with a cash offer yesterday  that I eventually took.

I never even put a “for sale” sign on Vinny, the 2003 Xterra that was in pretty pristine condition despite an odometer reading of 175,000-plus miles. It would have taken a lot for me to make the effort to sell him, but the idea had started crossing my mind on occasion. Perhaps it was fate who led these guys to my house yesterday to say they’d noticed the Xterra had been parked for a while, and they wondered if it was for sale. They said they were from Brownsville and did some work in the neighborhood but mostly didn’t expect to be back for a while. Could we make the deal right away? They had cash if I had papers.

On first sniff I sent them away, thinking I had a lot of thinking to do. It took a couple of hours for me to decide it would be the right thing, an easy thing to let him go on to his Chapter 2. They were making it easy for me to say goodby. And me, I needed to let go. Vinny was getting less and less use. He was my main go-to guy for trips to the vet with hounds Patsy and Tucker or to parks and neighborhoods to keep my walks from being so routine. But honestly, the last time I’d picked up my hounds from the vet, I’d taken Clarence, out of convenience.

So, the new owner was delighted when I called back and agreed he could take Vinny away that day. Vinny fired up after a false start or two because he hadn’t been driven lately. Eventually, he roared to life, and his new owner knew he’d gotten a good deal and a much beloved ride. I even told the two, later three, rustic gentlemen his name, Vinny, and explained that I’d named him for Vin Diesel the year that the movie XXX came out.  I laughed while all the men — including my husband — rolled their eyes at my love for my fire-engine red vehicle that had become a beloved, living and breathing character in my life.

I told them how important Vinny was/is to me. How he’d delivered me safely through the terrible weather and flooding in Houston. How Vinny had been the winner in four different rear-enders during heavy Houston commuting. How he’d taken me on the eight to 10-hour drive to Lubbock during the years my daughter was at Texas Tech and how he and I had traveled, often alone, to Galveston to stare at the beach.

A native Texan whose five-year out-of-state experience was in Motor City, I’ve always considered my vehicles personal — a speedy limb to my body. I love to drive, and I love my cars. A bit of a control freak, I always had to have the kids in my car, later my tennis team and most recently my co-workers. If we are going somewhere, I want to drive. And, as an old cop reporter, I’m used to traveling the roads alone as frequently as not. I’ve never minded hopping in my car to chase a hurricane or a tornado or to cover a murder or head to the violent part of town. And, back in those days, my traveling companion was never as reliable as Vinny. He is a tough act for Clarence to follow.

The spot in the driveway  where he’s been sitting mostly idle since I bought Clarence is depressingly vacant today. The purple and gold shrub that sat beside him for the last few months has spread hugely  across the driveway to need a trim. Today, he’s exploring new trails with new companions. And, if I get the chance to glance him on the roadways again, I will know he’s my old friend. The road is long.

Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

November 3, 2013 at 2:18 pm