Sunday, December 30, 2007

Returning to Texas 2007

I need to say something important about being back in Texas…something righteous, to the bone. Instead, I just feel numb. I’m thinking that I don’t really know where I’m supposed to be. Although for several months I’ve separated myself physically from the world here in Texas that changed dramatically and with such finality when our mother died on February 1 of this year, I didn’t escape in northern New Mexico, and being back in Texas, especially as we finish out this year, I feel the bruises that have marked me, it feels like forever.

I’ve returned to this place I have called home for the last several years. It is a complicated reminder of some of the missteps I’ve made since 1999. Not to beat myself up, at which I am the master, but I have to face some things, make an accounting…pay the piper. What I’ve tried unsuccessfully to keep out of my heart and mind for most of this year is finally staring me in the face, yes, even clawing my face.

Where do I begin digging myself out of this hole? I’ve come home to the winter image of a garden that grew huge as shovel by shovel I turned over the earth for eight years. In a way, digging became my savior during the long, lonely years we focused our attention on Mother’s declining health. Shovel by shovel, I turned over the dirt, exchanging my frustration for the fragrance of the earth. Stone after stone I transferred from palette to wheelbarrow to ground as I redefined what had been pasture into a landscape.

As gardens are wont to be, this one requires attention, nurturing, maintenance, even though I am quick to say, “I have a native garden”. Weeds still grow…like weeds…roses must be pruned…and not just on Valentine’s Day…and with winter comes the severe grooming that follows a year of growth. Before I started my journey west in early summer, I had given the garden all that it craves in early spring, including 14 yards—yes, that’s a dump truck load—of mulch. The early summer brought much rain, but once we hit mid-July, the water stopped, the sun shone with Texas intensity, and there was no relief through mid-October. I was trying to run away, returning to Texas only to ply my antiques trade for a month. The garden got the slam-bam with what little time I had to give it while I was home, and as I left for the return to northern New Mexico, I wished the garden well and prayed for rain. As we are about to enter the New Year, I am again married to a bucket of yard tools, shovel and rake my mates, and a wheelbarrow my pack mule.

If I could count the loads of gravel and crushed granite that completed the paths through the garden, the yards of mulch spread around plants year after year to conserve moisture, I’d really have to say, “How did I do that?” A better question in hindsight is “why did I do that?” I know the answer. It’s how I deal with frustration. It’s why I tackled a two-story barn, making it into a house—a house that will never be completed and that most people just “don’t get”, although they politely say, “interesting”. Flying by the seat of my pants, I’ve spent my money, gone into debt, mostly because I had no plan, just some sense of urgency. Technically, my house is paid for—technically. House and barn-still-not-house are filled to overflowing with treasure, the product of the perpetual hunt. Someone told me a few years ago, “Harold, just because you like something doesn’t mean that you have to own it.” It doesn’t? Explain that to the ranks of card-carrying junkers, the addicted seekers of the golden egg.

I have been away. The fall in northern New Mexico was a gift. It was my first opportunity to live a season where the weather truly changes from warm to cool, the trees follow nature’s directions, and ah-ha moments are waiting outside, along the rivers and just a short drive up the mountains, where at virtually every bend in the road, you just have to say, “oh, my God”. At least, that’s what I say as I witness such beauty. The weather changed, of course, and winter announced itself, well in advance of its official start. On the day of the Winter Solstice, we had several snows behind us. Scraping ice from the windshield of my truck before heading out to coffee each morning was second nature. Friends came from Texas to visit, some for Thanksgiving, others for Christmas. My daily ritual has been journaling, reading, and sometimes roaming along the Pecos River, driving into the mountains, walking, walking, walking, my camera always at hand.

Ah, but lives change, things end, and we try to figure out how to move forward. That’s where I am these days. That’s where we are, those left behind, the heirs, the owners of an undivided interest in property, trying to do the right thing, disagreeing and conceding, distrusting and suspecting, trying to remember the love we felt for one another as our Mother and Daddy’s children, and trying to claim and honor our rights as God’s children. My great escape is arrested. I have come back to what used to be home, where this property and my house are for sale. The road before me, well, it might as well be a mountain. I have come back to pay the piper.

Returning to Texas 2007—Normangee, Texas (December 30, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Monday, December 17, 2007


Anyone who knew my Daddy, Russell Hollis, also knew that his generosity was boundless. He grew up poor in East Texas, but not poor in family treasure. Born in 1911, he hadn’t reached his teens when the Great Depression settled in on the United States. I recall from the stories he recounted about leaving Angelina County for the Gulf Coast that he was about 15 when he went off the make his way, along with his older brother Pat. Their Daddy Stephen wasn’t able to provide for the family with his barbering and farming. To say he was a farmer is a stretch, although Daddy’s young years found him starting school late each fall and leaving early in the spring to work on the family farm. His story of repeating grades and eventually giving up is the same story for countless others.Three siblings, Ray, Mary and Frances, remained at home with their Mama and Papa.

It seems that most Americans were in the same boat during the years from 1920 to 1940. Money was scarce, and Daddy earned a living as a soda jerk, short order cook, and other jobs that I don’t remember. He traveled from Galveston, Texas to Sanderson, Texas following jobs and following adventure. He had courage and strong work ethic. Around 1940 he learned the butcher trade after marrying into Mother’s family that had a meat market on Washington Avenue, near downtown Houston. It seems that Mother and Daddy worked seven days a week for much of our growing up years, and my sisters and I learned to work right along side them. When Daddy retired at 65, his health had already begun to fail him. He entertained himself by piddling down at the barn on their place in Leon County, Texas. This is where he hung out. That place in the country was, in his words, as close to Heaven as you can get here on earth. That barn today has become my home. Throughout the building, both in the space where I live and in the part that remains a barn, his treasures touch my life—the powder horn he made and carved with his initials, his workshop apron, bamboo fishing poles, a tooled belt he made for Mother, many odds and ends.

I can’t even begin to imagine all the kind, helpful things he did for each of his children. My sisters would have to tell their own stories. Always a middle-class wage earner, all of it coming through sweat equity, evidence of his efforts to make life better and easier for his kids is woven into the tapestry of our lives—the homes we live in, the mementoes we all have of our parents, and the memories. Daddy was a self-taught artist, although his media wasn’t anything that ends up hanging on the wall. He tooled exquisite belts, built boxes for trinkets, painted wonderful holiday store windows, and he drew Felix the Cat. He was a gifted story teller. These are just a few of his accomplishments. My love for treasure hunting, junking I call it, came from him. He saw value in many things, though, that I pass by. I remember a couple of Friday nights driving home from school football games—I was in the band and Daddy sometimes came to pick me up—when we stopped smack in the middle of blacktop Cypress-North Houston Road, once to pick up a large bolt that our headlights called attention to and another time to catch a large bullfrog. Maybe he used the bolt. We ate the frog.

Christmas in the East Texas where Daddy grew up usually consisted of a couple pieces of fruit and some hard candy. Only he could tell his story, although it was not an uncommon one. John Henry Faulk, a Texas folklorist cut from the same cloth as Russell Hollis, told a wonderful story about the true spirit of Christmas giving. It makes me think of my Daddy, and it makes me count my blessings, again and again. Let me share this with you. Merry Christmas.

Daddy—Santa Fe, New Mexico (December 17, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Promise

I think my parents were married on December 15th. Maybe it was the 14th. My sisters and I knew nothing about their marriage, let alone the anniversary, until we were adults. One of our family secrets. On their anniversary of 1980, they went to the mall, even though Daddy had complained of chest pains. He didn’t want to go the emergency room, and Mother went along with his choice. I think that decision reflects clearly their denial of the health problems he had begun to have a few years before. Fear and denial, part of the family secret.

I didn’t know what the various doctors Daddy had seen had told him. He had a long history of smoking, although he had quit in 1976. He had been diagnosed with hypertension, high cholesterol, and probably had undiagnosed vascular disease. He had at least one bout of mini strokes. On the first day of spring 1981, Daddy died of a heart attack. He had spent the last several days in ICU, one of several stays in the hospital since December. The family was at home, waiting for visiting hours. When we arrived at the hospital, we found that Daddy had been moved to a private room, without the hospital having alerted us. Obviously, he was no longer hooked up to all the various devices associated with critical cardiac care. Were we in denial, or were we just sadly ignorant of the message? Death was near.

Sue, my middle sister, and I were with Daddy. Mother and Sue’s family were in the hallway. Daddy appeared to be unaware of our presence. I don’t remember that he called us by name, or even acknowledged us. “Pee, pee....” We thought he needed to urinate, so we called Mother and Sue’s husband, Henry, into the room. Together, Mother, Henry and I helped Daddy to the commode. We sat him down. I faced Daddy, Mother supporting from the right, Henry from the left. Daddy’s eyes were blue, blue, wide open. He was dead. “Peace, peace…” he had called.

The call went out, Code Blue.
Saviors in scrubs scurried into action,
Their subject already ascending.
They carried out their plan,
Required by law, ethics.
A family stood stunned and numb nearby.
Denial had robbed them,
They hadn’t prepared.
As they struggled, God breathed hope.
Mythical wings sheltered them.
“We did all we could,” said a savior in scrubs.
“Thank you.” The Promise was safe once more.

The Promise—Santa Fe, New Mexico (December 15, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

So to Honor Him

Come they told me,
Pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see,
Pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring,
Pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King,
Pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
So to honor Him,
Pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby,
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too,
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring,
Pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give our King,
Pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Shall I play for you?
Pa rum pum pum
On my drum.

Mary nodded,
Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time,
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him,
Pa rum pum pum
I played my best for Him,
Pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Then He smiled at me,
Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

Little Drummer Boy

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Trip to the Mountains

In the afternoon I had driven to the mountains, where snow had visited the night before, blanketing the land and in places reducing the roads to a brown, icy slush. After a slow, 12-mile climb, I arrived at my place, the one I adopted after returning to northern New Mexico in mid-October, in time to gasp at the fall show of the Aspens. There, a stream makes its descent, racketing over tiny falls and passing under the road, into the trees and underbrush on the other side that make easy exploration difficult for the uninitiated.

On this day the stream still made itself known, washing the rocks, while everything else lay in 26 degrees of white, and the noise of any jay echoed in the cold, still air. I headed my truck right up to the spot where the stream passes under the road. A few other mid-afternoon explorers had parked facing the rock walk designated for parking. Most had already made the ascent into the trails at Big Tesuque. I simply faced the noisy stream and did the same thing I’ve done each time I’ve made this journey since mid-October. I cried.

Sadness over loss, conflict, loneliness and half-realized attempts to relocate my body and my heart welled up, and I just let the tears go. I tried to practice the breathing exercises I learned earlier in the fall for combating altitude sickness, although if I have suffered these effects, I’m not aware—no headaches, no nausea. Breathe in through the nose slowly counting to four, then exhale through the mouth, counting to eight. More disciplined people can do this for ten minutes. The result, as one might expect, is a calming. The shoulders give up some of their natural tightness. The world doesn’t seem so unrelenting. Pilgrims experienced in meditation know this experience. It is their friend.

My companion on this trip up and down the mountain was Shania Twain. Maybe it seems odd that the finger-snapping sounds of country music’s hip-hop diva, only infrequently lyrical, could be an appropriate companion for a reflective trip into the wilderness. It’s true, though, for me. Pushing, asserting, longing and wise, her music and lyrics tell me it’s going to be all right, not only this afternoon, but tomorrow. That which we long for—call it happiness, peace, or balance, this dream toward which we move in often times wearying lives, begins inside our own private space—body, heart/mind/soul. And ultimately, happiness is real only if shared.

I can thank Sean Penn—whose current film, INTO THE WILD, which tells the true tale of a young graduate of one of America’s best universities—for what his story telling reminded me of last week. Fresh out Emory, and hell-bent on escaping his past—moneyed, conflicted family and the world’s expectations—Christopher McCandless heads to Alaska and his final frontier, touching and being touched by the lives of many pilgrims along the way. At the end of his journey, facing starvation after a winter of much deprivation and weight loss, McCandless is reduced to eating plants, and he makes a mistake, for which he has no antidote. Just that simple, but it’s not so simple. Allegedly his last written words confess what in his young life of privilege he hadn’t been able to realize, that happiness is real only if shared. He gave up everything to search for a truth that the world has known for all recorded time. No man is an island.

A Trip to the Mountains—Santa Fe, New Mexico (December 11, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,
But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;
For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.
Alfred Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Patience, But a Word

Those who have known me long enough to see how I deal with what I perceive as stress know that I can have a short fuse. I am short on patience. A boss I once had observed that I take no prisoners. In the war with life, there are winners and losers, and some who stand on the sideline.

Apparently I come from hot-tempered blood. Our Daddy had a quick temper, and my mother observed more than once after his death in 1981—when he exploded, it was with both barrels. Just as quickly, he wanted to get on, I guess hoping that his melt-down had cleared the air—at least for the time being. Mother wasn’t cheated in the temper department either. I remember her being on the warpath regularly while we were growing up. My sisters and I were expected to help clean the house, which Mother referred to as a “sow’s nest” when things were too messy, in her opinion. I don’t remember who the intended victim was the time she hurled her house shoe at someone, but I think it was my middle sister, Sue, who had popped off at Mother while she was raising hell about the condition of the house.

In marital struggles there are always two sides to any story. The same applies to all struggles, at whatever level they occur. Mother and Daddy were kind-hearted, well-intentioned, hard-working people. They taught us early to be responsible. We had chores, including housework, cooking and doing the dishes, cleaning a large yard, taking care of a few animals, and for Sue and me, working in the family-owned meat market. By my junior high years, our oldest sister Joan was in college. The daily grind of work and financial obligations placed a lot of stress on our family, as it always does on families. I can’t say that Mother and Daddy were living the American dream, although owning a home and property was certainly important, probably Mother’s insistent dream. Her family had never rented. Daddy’s East Texas family had known nothing but renting and moving.

While I never felt that we lacked in material things, I was fully aware that we were a laboring family that worked sometimes seven days a week. We usually drove a used car. Joan was a horsewoman from an early age, and when she followed in a modest way the high school rodeo circuit, we had a used truck and a couple of used trailers, the first a stock trailer and then a real double-horse trailer. I showed an early interest in music, so Mother and Daddy made monthly payments to H&H Music Company in Houston to buy me first a trumpet, then a clarinet after I got braces on my teeth to correct an underbite. Sue apparently never expressed an interest in hobbies, aside from homemaking type activities. She became a wonderful cook and seamstress, carrying on our daddy’s artistic ways.

Mother was clearly the driving force in our family. From nose-to-the-grindstone German stock, her formative years were about work. “Hard work never killed anyone” is a common mantra among those who know the value of a dollar. Daddy was no slouch, and he wasn’t afraid of work, but Mother was the driving force. I remember, in my senior year of high school—my bedroom shared a wall with the kitchen, the dining table butted up against the wall. “Godammit! woman”, Daddy’s fist hit the table, and he was out the door to the market across the road. I really don’t know what they argued about, but it generally had to do with her perceived need to get more done in the market.

I know that Mother and Daddy loved each other, although a family friend and former employee observed to Sue after Daddy’s death that he was surprised Mother took it so hard. They had argued so much in front of an audience at work. Both had borne the pain of previous failed marriages. We weren’t privileged to that history, however, at least not until I, the youngest, was out of college and certain circumstances forced a partial confession. There were secrets that both Daddy and Mother took to their graves, in spite of attempts on my part to know more of the truth. I honestly can’t speak to the efforts either of my sisters made to gain more information about our parents’ past. Again, Mother was the driving force.

More than once after Daddy’s death in 1981, Mother observed to me, “You’re just like your daddy. You want things now.” I know my own impatience. Instant gratification, quick solutions, low tolerance for people who in my eyes either impede progress or don’t sense the urgency I feel. Yes, I am guilty of all charges. Yet, I know that I am a problem solver. I hadn’t even thought about labeling myself until a couple of colleagues described me late in my professional life. To me life and work are about making things better, feeling a sense of accomplishment, teamwork, and yes, growth. I can be easily frustrated over people who put hurdles in my path or won’t sign on to the program, those who just don’t seem to care, and the worst, the gatekeeper, hungry for power.

There is indeed a better way. We can define this however we choose. I’m no inventor, but I certainly know we wouldn’t live in a world of great accomplishment if our history weren’t filled with people who envision a better way and work toward accomplishing that end. Doing so is more than nose-to-the-grindstone doggedness. Yes, perseverance counts in spades. So do dreams, so does longing for a better, kinder journey. I don’t know my percentages. Do I take most things to 70-80%? Do I too often give up before reaching even that level? Do I lack in nose-to-the-grindstone doggedness? Has my impatience cost me both dollars and sense? Does it cause me to give up too easily on people and situations?

The jury is still out on me. Fortunately, I sense that I still have some time to solve a few more problems. On this journey I have to continue grasping—“Ah, but a man’s grasp should exceed his reach, or what’s a heaven for?” said Robert Browning. And apparently, Mr. Browning gave us, “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, 'A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!'” Well, I wish I had said that. I didn’t, though. But I can keep the dream alive, honoring both Daddy, and Mother, who sadly never told us her dreams. Daddy’s dream ended early just before reaching three score and ten, Mother’s just short of her 90th birthday. What a legacy they gave us—one a dreamer, the other both feet planted firmly on the ground, and both honest, decent, hard-working products of what Tom Brokaw has labeled, “the greatest generation”.

Patience, Dear Boy

Following is the meditation for Wednesday, December 2007, from

2 Peter 3:1-10. With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.

We give lip service to the concept of "God's time." We may even pray for patience. But in practice, we're on a schedule, and we expect God to get with the program.

Patience is not something Americans do well; we want what we want, and we want it right now. We are unaccustomed to waiting for anything, large or small, necessary or not: well-stocked stores and FedEx make instant gratification easy.

When it comes to our hopes and ambitions, it's not so simple. Instant gratification is out of the question for building a lasting relationship, raising a child, earning a degree, saving for retirement, or pursuing a vocation.

Sometimes things take far longer than we think they should, even with work, obedience, and prayer. It's hard--especially for the impatient, especially for me--to understand, to grasp God's purpose, to accept that God's schedule is not mine. But it's necessary, and with acceptance of that comes peace.
"If you cannot accept it with joy, at least suffer it with patience." Thomas à Kempis (d. 1471)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

No Man is an Island

The year is 1961, the month February, and the event is the combined concert performances of the Texas all-state band, orchestra, and chorus in the Dallas convention auditorium. A member of the band, I recall one piece we performed, Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Procession of Nobles”. I can hear the majestic sound of the trumpets announcing the opening of the procession. That was almost 47 years ago—a lifetime in the early 20th century—and that musical experience marked me forever. What really stands out in my memory of that final night, though, is the chorus, whose program included an American arrangement of John Donne’s Meditation XVII, “No Man is an Island,” and also a performance with the band and orchestra of “God of Our Fathers”.

Even today I am a little embarrassed that I was not schooled in transposing music to the key of my instrument, having had no background in music theory. Apparently having developed that skill was assumed for students who had reached the highest level of high school musicianship. So, while the forces of three incredibly accomplished groups played and sang this gorgeous National hymn, composed for the Centennial celebration of the constitution of the United States, I sat, mouthpiece of my instrument to my lips, and I cried. My tears had nothing to with my abilities. Barely 17 years old, I was touched by the beauty, a beauty that has never failed to grip my soul over and over through these many years when I hear beautiful music. It doesn’t matter where I am, and it’s not limited to any particular genre of music.

In music there is a force that reaches to the depths of my soul, and it speaks to me unlike anything else. Always, always, “Amazing Grace” renders me to tears for at least part of a verse, until I am able to collect myself. “God of our Fathers”, and many other expressions of faith set to music affect me similarly. I laugh, wondering what I would do if I ever had to perform for an audience? I guess I’d learn discipline, to rein in my emotions, but that’s another story.

For all of us there are those defining experiences, maybe little epiphanies where we don’t even say “ah-hah”! Perhaps the light that shines for us in that moment doesn’t even need to be articulated. Whatever happens, we are changed. Maybe we are fortunate enough just to have a gift that opens doors and windows for us. Whether we follow the path in some formal way, or not, doesn’t really matter so much. What does matter is that something touches us, reminds us of our creation, indeed of the miracle of all creation. What does matter is that we realize and understand something much bigger than we are. Something unites us in the human experience, humbles us and lifts us up. “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Three Men Walking

Man walks down the road,
Arms and legs move in strength-filled gait.
His head is turned in salutary pose.
"Look at that guy's walk...
He looks confident, doesn't he?"
He imagines music that feeds his soul.

Man walks into Starbucks,
His shoulders and hips are comfortably low.
He turns deliberately to the newspaper rack,

Then moves with purpose to the counter.
Coffee and paper in hand,
He walks complete to his still-warm car,
And returns to his private space.
At home, Tchiakowsky or Debussy quietly play.

Man walks down the aisle.
He processes in Grace,
The music is triumphant, resolute,
"All glory, laud and honor".
His head turns, he smiles lovely.
I nod. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Old Treasure

Along with Joan and Sue, my two older sisters, I spent my early growing up years in the West End, an old blue collar neighborhood situated just outside downtown Houston and settled mostly by German immigrants before 1900. Witness the names: Reinerman, Reineke, Sandman, Detering. Our mother grew to adulthood in the West End, first at 806 Sandman, later at 102 Arnold. A photograph dated 1924 shows Mother, then seven, seated in a little cart hitched to a goat. This picture was taken in front of their family home, located next to the grandparents’ corner house, a home I owned for a few years in the 1990s at 803 Sandman.

In the early 1920s, the Fuchs family moved deeper into the West End, into a part of the neighborhood where the street markers today read NO OUTLET. From the beginning the streets were dead-ends, houses on these streets landlocked by wooded property that held cattle and horses. Some of this property is still in families bearing the same names as the original owners…Dickson. There are cattle and horses, virtually in the shadow of downtown Houston skyscrapers. Fox Hill is what some people call this deep part of the West End—really Fuchs Hill, although the residents who know the name don’t know the correct spelling. (Fox. From the Middle High German "vuhs" meaning fox. Sometimes used to describe someone with red hair, or someone considered crafty or clever - characteristics attributed to the fox. FOX is the English version of this surname, which is also spelled FUHS, FUX. From About.Inc., a part of the New York Times Company).

As young children we were surrounded by Fuchs history. The street where Mother grew up, and where my sisters and I spent our early years, is named Arnold, for Arnold Prause, who married a Fuchs daughter, great Aunt Tena, our mother’s namesake. Our great grandfather Will, along with his son Frank, ran cattle in this area that included what became Memorial Drive, the parkway separating toney River Oaks from the West End. Our cousin, C. W. Poe, related on both the Fuchs and Hollis side—Fuchs through his mother, Ida Bell Heinrich and Hollis through his daddy, Carl Poe—was one of our playmates. C. W. shares a blood mix with my middle sister and me.

Today, C. W. continues to live on West End land descended from Will and Betty Fuchs through their granddaughter Ida Bell, though this inherited home was built in the 1960s, to take the place of the old Will Fuchs homestead of the 1920s. The house I remember, that I see in my mind’s eye, was not destroyed, simply relocated and rented out. The same people, first a mother and daughter, and now just the daughter, have occupied this rent house for 40-plus years. In some ways, this little niche of the West End hasn’t changed much.

The Will Fuchs homestead was not dissimilar to my grandparents’ house, typical clapboard design of the 1920s—distinctively solid like the Germans who built it. Oddly, in my mind’s eye, I see the Will Fuchs house just as distinctly as our own house. Will and Betty were gone, of course. Ida Bell continued to practice rural German traditions—raising laying hens, milking a cow, and making clabber. I can see the sturdy stoneware clabber bowl covered with unbleached muslin resting on a table in what had been a porch, now enclosed to be her sewing room. My mother reminded me some time before her death that Ida Bell would gather the curds from the soured milk into the muslin and hang it on the clothesline to allow the excess liquid to drip out. The curds were eaten like cottage cheese and the milk in the stoneware bowl became buttermilk. This is what I recall.

Traditions, treasures, and wonder characterized our life there in the West End of the late 1940s. We had our own kid treasures as well. The Our Gang Comedy bunch had a film crew to record their Hollywood version of treasure hunting. My memory holds the vision of West End treasures, perhaps gathered as we roamed the gulley behind C. W.’s house, digging out discarded bottles and tins, one of which eventually held booty buried in a grove directly across from the front of the Will Fuchs house, at the top of the rise that looked down on Memorial Drive. I don’t remember the contents of that tin box, but I do remember digging away the carpet of leaves and the smell of damp dirt when we buried it. Did we ever retrieve that tin? I’ve dreamed about it now and again into adulthood.

With the help of my sister Sue and our neighbor Charlene, I learned to ride my bicycle on the long Dickson driveway. Our neighbor Judy Robertson hit me over the head with a piece of two by four. I don’t remember why. On a Halloween night as dark and windy as the scene in “To Kill a Mockingbird” where Scout almost loses her life to the drunken racist Bob Ewell, Joan, Sue, and I, joined by other neighborhood kids, went trick or treating at the old Dickson homestead. Set back in the trees, on a dirt lot bare of grass, the two-story house was right out of the movies. We waited anxiously at the front door, lit by a single bulb, “Trick or treat, trick or treat,” and then scattered like banshees when the Dickson’s grown son Joe came flying down the stairway, draped in a sheet.

Daughters of the Black family that had worked for our grandparents, Frank and Lizzie Fuchs, babysat us sometimes. Once, Sugar Loaf told us ghost stories and had us all so frightened that we all, including Sugar Loaf, were found hiding under the bed when Mother and Daddy came home. Somewhere we have a photograph and a tear out from the Houston newspaper showing the Hollis children, along with Mother and our family friend Jim Hulme, and the family collie, Lassie, and 13 fluffy puppies. While sitting with Sue and me one time, our grandmother Lizzie discovered that we had been nipping from the decanter of Mogen David stored on top of the dining room buffet. I had on a plaid, short-sleeve shirt the time Joan grabbed me by the collar to keep me from winning a race down the side of the house. Tingling with the feel of cool concrete against our bare feet, Sue and I danced on top of the brick and concrete pillars that supported the railing of the Frank and Lizzie Fuchs front porch, our home for a few years before the Hollises moved to the country in the summer of 1951.

Fortunately, time and distance haven’t diminished the treasure of the 1940s, those years where we were imprinted with our sense of family. In this year where our personal connection to the previous generation came to a close with the death of our mother, more and more we remember. We will celebrate our first Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I hope that we will remember well where our treasure lies. It isn’t a table, or a photograph, and not a patch of land, including the site in Hopewell Cemetery where the earthly remains of Tena Elizabeth Fuchs and Russell Hollis repose. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Old Treasure—Santa Fe, New Mexico (November 13, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Hiding Out

Friday, November 9, 2007

Change is Inevitable, Growth is Optional

“Change is Inevitable—Growth is Optional” (attributed to Walt Disney). If you care to amuse yourself and adorn your vehicle with art that annoys the self-righteousness and goes right over the heads of the clueless, you can find the bumper sticker on the Internet.

from Psalm 69
6 Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me,
O Lord God of hosts;
do not let those who seek you be dishonoured because of me,
O God of Israel.
7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach,
that shame has covered my face.
8 I have become a stranger to my kindred,
an alien to my mother’s children.

Here in the big light of northern New Mexico, if one chooses to see, there are many unrealized dreams and much despair being painted on a canvas against a background of opportunity. Hope.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
Emily Dickinson

That Raven who regularly soars through the air, announcing his presence—KWOK, KWOK, KWOK—sees it all. He lights here, there, his back to the camera or body barely visible, and then magically he ascends, teasing the camera with an opportunity to record his flight.

With time on my hands, I walk, I drive, I look, I watch. I interact. I watch. I’m looking through light to the tiniest place of despair. Do I walk toward that which disappoints and saddens me, causes me discomfort or fear? Or do I shake my head, suggesting my acceptance of that which I likely cannot change?

The nights are cold here, although I am told by many people that we are having an unusually long fall. The days still warm up to 70, even though the weather forecast continues to predict highs in the 50s. At St. Bede's, where I worship on Sunday and now participate in Morning Prayer on Fridays, words are spoken about the needs of those who have not in a community where the evidence of money can be so disgusting. We’re collecting blankets and sleeping bags. With pleasure, the man in charge of the project announces that the Coleman Company has offered sleeping bags at half the retail price, if we purchase as many as 50. I’d already bought my offering at the Santa Fe Wal-Mart. Up the road in Espanola, a town with more than its share of poverty, there’s a Super Wal-Mart, which also sells gasoline. In the convenience store associated with Wal-Mart’s gasoline business, a bottle of water that costs $.99 in most Texas places costs $1.59. I’ll have water when I get back to my apartment. The Raven lives in Espanola as well.

In the Barrio, homes with 1000 square feet of living space can fetch as little as $225,000. Don’t mind that you might need bars on your window and a Rotweiler or Pit Bull in the yard. Walk or drive the streets of any near-downtown neighborhood, head out Cerrillos to the miles and miles of retail, malls, lots of the toney chains that upwardly mobile people love, you won’t miss an opportunity to see the down-and-out. Earlier this week, as I sat in my truck at a red light, I observed a man and woman, who appeared homeless to me, huddled in the corner of the front stoop of a liquor store that faces St. Francis. I know, don’t make assumptions. They sat, tete-a-tete, while someone who had just patronized the store drove away in a Volvo, Mercedes, BMW. I don’t know the make of the car. It wasn’t a sub-compact Chevy or Ford.

Today, I was reminded in a blanket email from a gallery in downtown Bryan, Texas of the Empty Bowl project coming up there on November 10th. Santa Fe participates in that national project. Local artisans produce and donate hand-thrown bowls, local restaurants donate the soups, and you and I get the opportunity to pay $15 for a piece of art and a bowl of gourmet soup, while supporting the local food pantry in its efforts to provide for the hungry.

“Odin, the chief god of the Norsemen, was attended by two Ravens, who whispered advice in his ears. It was the Raven that Noah sent forth from the Ark. To Elijah, hiding by the brook of Cherith, the Ravens brought food. In Wales, the legendary hero, Owein, was accompanied by an army of Ravens that guarded him from harm.” (
I’ve seen the Raven out on Cerrillos Road. He doesn’t perch quietly. He wants you to know he’s there, here.

Change is Inevitable, Growth is Optional—Santa Fe, New Mexico (November 9, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Monday, November 5, 2007

Sometimes God

Sometimes God’s awareness of my thoughts stuns me. Being in the Land of Enchantment isn’t entirely enchanting. Much of the blame for this I have to lay at my own feet. I am at times impatient, rigid, distrustful, and unnecessarily hard on others. I can be hard headed. The real victim here, though, is the guy behind the camera. As my Grandma Fuchs used to say, “if you can’t listen, you have to feel”.

Let’s see, “hindsight is 20-20”, “look before you leap”. That instinct to look for an apartment here during my trip out early in the summer led to a hasty decision to rent a place too small, on a dirt easement that set my antennae “en pointe”, situated at the back of a compound where cigarette butts littered the would-be landscape, a Chihuahua and a mixed breed Blue-Heeler were out in the “yard”, barking—yip, yap, yap, yip—dog crap was on the paths and in the flower beds, mops, brooms, mangled doormats adorned the entrance to the three apartments, a plate of fly-infested food sat outside the door of the front house (leftovers of the spicy Thai variety, intended for the two dogs), and the music from Apartment B, soon to be my Santa Fe dream-come-true, was deafening. Oh, crap, how could I not “see the writing on the wall”? This was a Tar Baby waiting to happen!

A Tar Baby has been defined as an object of censure, a sticky problem, or a problem which is only aggravated by attempts to solve it. Frankly, I think the road of my life is littered with tar babies, and apparently, I just can’t avoid engaging the struggle. If you don’t remember Joel Chandler Harris’s story of Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit, here’s a synopsis from Wikipedia.

In one tale, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear construct a doll out of a lump of tar and dressed it with some clothes. When Br'er Rabbit comes along he addresses the tar "baby" amiably, but receives no response. Br'er Rabbit becomes offended by what he perceives as the Tar Baby's lack of manners, kicks it, and in doing so becomes stuck. Now that Br'er Rabbit is stuck, Br'er Fox ponders how to dispose of him. The helpless, but cunning, Br'er Rabbit pleads, "Please don't throw me in the briar patch," prompting Fox to do exactly that. As rabbits are at home in thickets, the resourceful Br'er Rabbit escapes. Using the phrases "please don't throw me in the briar patch" and "tar baby" to refer to the idea of "a problem that gets worse the more one struggles against it" became part of the wider culture of the United States in the mid-20th century.

Here’s a link to the entire tale: .

Just about any day of the week, I’m staring a potential Tar Baby in the face. I’ve tried to figure out how I put myself in positions where there are winners and losers. I haven’t mentioned that I’m moving to more permanent quarters in the middle of November. My decision to hasten the search for something I could afford to buy in northern New Mexico has been fed by annoying problems where I live. We’ll talk about my new digs at The Reserve later.

Granted, it has been tough trying to get used to living in 300 square feet. And even with adobe walls separating me from the recent college graduate girls next door, too often the bass on their stereo vibrates through the walls. They like to entertain, and sometimes their energetic conversations spill out into the courtyard, which according to the landlady, is for the “quiet enjoyment” of the tenants in each of the three residences here. Then there’s the nasty smoking habit…cigarette butts littering the walkways and flower beds. It seems that all of their friends smoke too.

This past Saturday, after making myself scarce for the better part of the day so that the landlady could meet several prospects interested in my casita, I returned home to find all three of the pathetic little parking spaces assigned to 613-1/2 Galisteo occupied. Keep in mind, I live at the end of a dirt easement lined with living quarters and littered with vehicles of virtually every description. Some of them haven’t moved since early July when I first saw this apartment. Actually, I think these same cars are incapable of moving of their own power. Covered in dust, bumper stickers that bespeak the offbeat sentiments of this place—“Bad Tourist, No Turquoise”, “I think, therefore I’m dangerous”—and now the leaves of fall. If you’re old enough to remember Ferrante and Teicher’s twin pianos, don’t imagine them pounding out the strains of “Autumn Leaves” here. You can barely see through the besmeared windows to the truth; these cars are storage units, their license plates long expired.

The bottom line, there is just no room for mistakes in how the cars that do move of their own power are aligned on this gridiron. The details of the story don’t matter, as usual. It’s all about trying to do your best and hoping that the neighbors will do the same. No, it really doesn’t work that way. A Tar Baby discussion evolves, and no one walks away happy. The parking, oh dear God, the parking here is a nightmare.

How can I make it any clearer? To my landlady, an email that echoes the breaking of the camel’s back…can you hear the snap? “After I spoke to you this morning, I realized that I had failed to pick up a pair of shoes in the apartment that I wanted to take to the repair shop, so I headed back to the apartment, with the intention of parking on Booth so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the “illegally” parked car in the easement. There were no parking spaces on Booth, so I had to squeeze through the two cars in question (one of which has been parked in the same spot since I first looked at the apartment in July). I knocked on the door of the house but got no response. When I got back to a place where I could get a signal on my cell phone, I called your sister (who owns and rents the house in front of the two casitas). I don’t know the details of when she spoke to the residents in the house, but she left me a message explaining the circumstances that led last night to the “girlfriend’s” car being parked in NO PARKING.

At this point, I’m not really interested in hearing another story about why someone, who isn’t even a paying resident of 613-1/2 Galisteo, is interfering with the limited parking we have back here. Nor am I compelled to have conversations with other residents at this address regarding parking, noisy conversations in the courtyard, loud music, or any other subject that infringes on my rights as a paying resident at this address. It appears that I am the odd-man out.”

And odd man I am. I am at cross-purposes with the girls next door, even with their hot-headed visitor driving a New York-licensed car that looks to be near its limits, and who challenged me last Saturday to call the police if she parked in the NO PARKING spot against the fence. “If I park there, are you going to call the police?!” “Is that what you want?”, I shot back. Did I tell you that Santa Fe has been called Santa Gay and that the City Different is described by some as the City Indifferent? Oh, well, it doesn’t really matter that the girls involved here are all lesbians. Do you think they’re man haters? Oh, indulge my spleen.

Yes, I am moving. For reasons given, Check All the Above. And by the way, the girls next door and most of their friends are cute-to-pretty, generally friendly, and I guess, just trying to make their way in Santa Gay, most of them probably working at least three jobs to pay the rent and buy cigarettes. That’s not uncommon here in the Land of Enchantment. And God doesn’t like the cynicism that characterizes this venting of the spleen. He (okay, She) does know my thoughts, wants the best for me, wants me to make loving choices on how I live my life, and doesn’t force me to engage the Tar Baby. That’s called willfulness from the person of the first part. That would be me. Your positive energy is welcomed here. I’m practicing speaking the truth without intent of malice, trying not to take that Tar Baby personally, hoping to make my integrity clear to all with whom I interact, and trying to do the best I can all day long, everyday.

Sometimes God--Santa Fe, New Mexico (November 5, 2007)

R. Harold Hollis

Monday, October 29, 2007

Let There Be Light

For the last several days—I guess because the temperatures in northern New Mexico are reaching lows that typify most winter days in central Texas—my thoughts have been on those glorious, frosty mornings that invigorate me. It’s still fall here at 7000 feet, although snow is on the mountain tops. The Aspens have just about finished their autumnal work, although the cottonwoods are showing off at lower elevations, including here in Santa Fe. I’ve made trips to Abiquiu and Cordova recently. The scene along the river is golden. I wrote what follows in early December two years ago. Memories are not limited to time and place.

December 6, 2005. Today, I was reminded of winter in an unexpected way. I had spent the night in Columbus with friends who own a bed and breakfast, where we enjoyed a fire both last evening and again this morning. Braced with coffee, good conversation and intent on a mission over in another county that had grown out of our conversation, I made my way through this entirely rural area of rolling hills, pastureland turned now to autumn yellow, and cattle. Seeing cattle in rural Texas ordinarily is nothing to take particular note of, although the site of a herd of Longhorns or Herefords is attention getting. I haven’t thought much about the visual impact of a herd of cattle, but on this pre-winter morning a herd of Gray Brahmans quietly and slowly making their way across an autumn yellow field captured my eye and caused me to pause, considering a digital memory. I was on a mission, remember, and though I was going down the road a little farther, I knew that shortly I would capture this Canon, or old-fashioned Kodak, moment.

My official business complete, I headed back up the road, wrestling with my camera bag, only to discover what I thought was a battery in need of a charge. “Damn!” I said out loud, probably adding a “Give me a break!,” discovering happily while trying not to run into the ditch that the battery wasn’t dead at all—instead, still in the charging device waiting to do its job.

Given the skiddish nature of Brahmans (in the northwest Harris County country where I grew up, I am accustomed to hearing that word pronounced “Braymers” or even “Brimmers”), I expected that I would have to step silently through the ditch to the fence line to avoid sending them into cattle-thundering flight. I had noticed at my first pass the virtually upright horns of many members of this herd. It was this notice that caused me to think of those Braymers I remembered on my grandmother and uncle’s place as I young child—old-fashioned Braymers. To my surprise, they stood quietly as I approached the fence, and seemed totally at ease with my presence and my camera. They stood in pose, heads held high, feet planted solidly in the frosty grass of this December morning, gray Brahmans against glistening light. Let there be light.

So often, pictures are disappointing, especially outdoor scenes, when on review we say, “Why did I take that? Oh well, I guess you had to be there.” Not this day. When I got home and loaded the images onto my laptop, I saw what I hoped I had captured—lovely gray cattle, some with horns reaching for the sky, others with horns that had been tipped, and some with no horns at all, all facing the camera proudly, curiously, dark hooves set against the evidence of winter to come on this sunny December morning. Let there be light.

Let There Be Light
Harold Hollis (Normangee Texas – December 6, 2005)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Reading Our Lives

As I head north on Galisteo to my casita, sometimes several times a day, my attention is drawn to the small sign at the edge of the Unitarian Universalist Church campus. “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” Thomas Paine said that, and I like it. That was back in August and September, and I just assumed that it was a statement of what the UUC stands for and therefore permanent. When I returned to Santa Fe in mid October, I discovered that the sign had changed to words that ring equally true—“It is in our lives and not from our words that our religion must be read.” That’s Thomas Jefferson.

Recently while searching online at the downtown library, trying to find a DVD to check out, I dredged my mind for every popular film I could think of from the last few years, none of which I had seen during the theater run. As circumstance would have it, everything was either checked out, “in process” or some other state of being that I don’t recall. Finally, I went to the check out desk for the media department and asked, “Where are the DVDs shelved? Maybe I can find something there because every title I type in is unavailable.” Nothing caught my eye as I scanned the sparsely populated shelves. Then I spied Ken Burns’s piece on Thomas Jefferson.

A trip to the library isn’t necessary to find more information than you care to know about polar bears. The same is true, of course, for Thomas Jefferson. The internet—Wikipedia is my favorite—sits out there waiting to catch us up on the facts of our history that many of us have either forgotten, or maybe never really learned to begin with. I wonder how much a typical American with a high school diploma remembers about Thomas Jefferson. Although Jefferson was the third president of the United States, he chose not to include that accomplishment in an epitaph “written by him with an insistence that only his words and ‘not a word more’ be inscribed”:


According to Wikipedia, “when President John F. Kennedy welcomed forty-nine Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962 he said, ‘I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House—with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.’”[2] April 29, 1962 dinner honoring 49 Nobel Laureates (Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations, 1988, from Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1962, p. 347).

Jefferson was raised in the Church of England, what became the Episcopal Church in the United States in 1789. However, he is generally known to have been a Deist. The religious philosophy of Deism derives the existence and nature of God from reason and personal experience, in contrast to theism, which characterizes Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and which relies on revelation in sacred scriptures or the testimony of other people.

According to Wikipedia, Jefferson was considered a polymath, the Greek term for a person with encyclopedic, broad, or varied knowledge or learning. Among his many talents and accomplishment are counted horticulturist, statesman, architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, author, inventor and founder of the University of Virginia. My head spins to consider that a single human being could be so gifted. What sticks in my mind today, though, and for the last two weeks since returning to Santa Fe, is that sign on the edge of the campus of the Unitarian Universalist Church, “It is in our lives and not from our words that our religion must be read.” And I can’t forget the words of Mr. Paine: “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

Over the centuries wars have been fought, are being fought, lives lost or otherwise destroyed, all in the name of someone’s God. All we have to do today is click on cable TV, pick up a news magazine, spend time among the flock of our religion of choice, or listen to one of the politicians who boasts the God-given rights of his religion. We are likely to witness something elitist, separatist, judgmental or unfriendly in character. It might not happen in the pulpit, but it will happen. It might even be something as simple as failing to make a stranger or newcomer in church feel welcome.

As part of worship in the Episcopal Church, we exchange the Peace near the end of the liturgy. “God’s peace,” or “the peace of the Lord”, we say, extending our hand to our neighbor. Generally, people acknowledge those seated around them, but sometimes they make a special effort to move up the aisle, or to someone seated in another part of the sanctuary. In the small central Texas mission church where I worshiped for a few years recently, we pretty much made the rounds, shaking hands, but mostly hugging one another in God’s name. That was nice. What is more standard in larger churches though is a formal shaking of hands, except for those with whom you feel a particular closeness. It’s hugs for them. I’ve even heard people say that some don’t like the exchanging of the Peace. Maybe it’s too “new age”.

Last week I had a strange experience. I decided at the beginning of the week to make a calendar that included events at the church where I worship, including Morning Prayer on Friday. Seated and ready to participate, only three people present, the woman in charge welcomed me to St. Bede’s. I replied that I had been attending St. Bede’s for two months, sitting right across the aisle from her. As I recall, I had shaken her hand at least once during the Peace, maybe caught her eye and nodded my head as my lips moved, “God’s Peace”. I don’t think she knew what to say. It has been my experience at several churches over the last three years that people generally flock to their friends and family after the final hymn. At St. Bede’s, where I sit on the back row, and then stand to listen to the organist’s Postlude after worship ends, a few people have nodded at me, said “good morning” or offered their hand as they passed by. I’m still waiting for someone to come up to me and say, “would you like to have a cup of coffee?” Secretly, I think, “I am the new kid on the block”. Maybe someone is waiting for me to do the same. After all, it is God’s house, and it belongs to me as well, even if I am a stranger in a strange land. It is in what we do that our religion is read.

Reading Our Lives—Santa Fe, New Mexico (October 26, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I am blessed, I am blessing

In the night, I understand.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

Can this be? Yes.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

Yet I wrest. Stop.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

Let me fall. Get up.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

I am wrong. No.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

In the day, my heart divides.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

Come share this bread. Tell me.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

I love you. I love you.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

I am blessed, I am blessing—Santa Fe, New Mexico (October 23, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Monday, October 22, 2007

Stepping Up

Do we ever get too old to make the same kind of transparent excuses we made as children? My dog ate my homework is a classic. Another one I used to hear, it seems from my colleague and friend Mark, was “my homework flew into the ditch as I was getting on the school bus”. Also from Mark, something he borrowed from the universe of published thoughts, “do good, and avoid evil”. I have experienced a lion’s share of hungry dogs recently, and I guess I have to acknowledge my own part in all of this. The experiences of children might be funny in the retelling, but for adults, well, the rose of innocence is already tarnished.

I have spent many sleepless hours in the middle of the night gnawing on things done and left undone. Stripped bare of the defenses that build up during the hours of consciousness, I have a well-rehearsed list of failures waiting to confront me and my pillow. I guess it must be the same for all of us. Somehow I find reassurance when I balm myself with the hope that some of the people who populate my world are giving pause to their own failure to step up, to take responsibility. Wanting others to shoulder what rightly belongs to us is an easy habit to form and a tough one to break.

Last summer, the outside mirror on the driver’s side of my truck was side-swiped on a narrow, heavily-traveled street here in Santa Fe. That could be just about any street. “Damn,” I stomped, on discovering it. I quickly felt responsible, although I couldn’t help but wonder what went through the mind of the guy who clipped me. I was parked against the curb, my truck and outside mirrors passed muster for Ford. The only reasonable thing I could have done to prevent my loss of $307 was either fold in my mirror (practical) or not park on a busy, narrow street (not so practical). It was an accident, if you believe in such, and what I learned from it stays with me each time I park my truck anywhere in a city that is rife with narrow streets and stingily marked parking spaces. I wonder if the guy who hit me even remembers the incident four months later, or did he just blame some unknown person who obviously didn’t know how to park his truck. I wonder what happened to his outside mirror.

Recently I bought a set of table legs, handsomely and typically crafted during New Mexico’s WPA arts flourish of the late 1930s. At the same yard sale I bought a slab of cottonwood, probably 20” wide, to use as a table top. “I wonder who I could get to put these pieces together,” I commented to a local guy who was junking with me that day. He quickly offered to craft the table for me. “Man, how painless is that,” I relished to myself. Oddly, after leaving the pieces at his place, he joked to me the next morning at the neighborhood coffee shop that I could make a gift of the table for his recently-acquired warehouse apartment. “It’s just stuff,” he grinned. I declined. Later that day I bought him a bit to use with his drill for joining the top to the legs. He’s not returning my phone calls, and he hasn’t acknowledged the note I left on his door a couple of days ago. He’s in town. His two Great Pyrennes were at home. “Damn,” I should have followed my gut instinct and collected the table parts that day. Maybe he’ll do the right thing, maybe he won’t. He really hadn’t done anything to earn my trust. I wonder what’s going through his mind.

I live at the end of a narrow and heavily-parked dirt easement. On any given day at least a dozen cars line the outer edges and so-called defined parking spaces of the easement. To consider this in any way a friendly parking situation is laughable. Introduce one vehicle parked in an unfriendly manner—the sign says NO PARKING—and the playing field suddenly becomes virtually inoperable. From the neighbor who brings in the foreign vehicle, a girlfriend sleepover who apparently has become a regular, well, the story just has too many details. Let’s just say that the dog ate his homework. It would be equally relevant. Rather than stew over it—I had left a note on the windshield as I squeezed my way out to go for coffee—my landlord suggested that I knock on the door, ask them to move the car and not park in NO PARKING again. Apparently they weren’t even home when I attempted to rouse them. I shake my head and chuckle when I think about the third time I returned home that morning, having decided to park on the side street rather than squeeze my truck through the narrow opening on the road to my parking space. Yes, Booth is one of those typical Santa Fe streets, made for vehicles the size of bumper cars in an amusement park. No fault, no blame this time regarding outside mirrors. There were no parking spaces. I wonder if my neighbor will have his girlfriend park on the side street now.

Someone has suggested that I’m sending messages to the universe inviting conflict. I’m ready to believe it, so in the middle of the night, when I’m caught off-guard, my defenses down, I try to practice sending the right kind of messages, and tonight at 3:00 a.m., I’m sitting at my laptop, working out the responsibility for the vibrations escaping my mind and messing with my world.

Stepping Up—Santa Fe, New Mexico (October 22, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Good Thing About Telling the Truth

“If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.”
Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1894

A few years ago someone I know through collecting antiques said to me, “the good thing about telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said”. Great words, don’t you think? At the time I didn’t realize that he was paraphrasing Mark Twain. He probably didn’t either. Unfortunately, the person borrowing Mr. Twain’s advice didn’t follow it.

We were together that Saturday because he had contacted me regarding a piece of Texas furniture he felt certain I would like. I made the drive 50 miles northwest of Houston to see a rare gem of a candle stand, supposedly “found” in Lee County, an area of the state known for some premier examples of 19th century furniture craftsmanship. I have to admit that upon first seeing the stand I gasped with pleasure. It was tall, folky and primitive, possessing perfect scale in dimensions, and even though it was painted with white porch enamel, the paint had been on the piece for a long time. Everything worked! The price was steep, $600, and my gut instinct told me that maybe this rare candle stand was a little too rare to be real. I had never seen another stand like this with a Texas provenance. I took the bait, and I took the candle stand home.

Anyone who knows me and my collecting also knows that I get pretty excited when I find anything that I think is wonderful, but especially excited when the piece is from Texas. Naturally, I shared my news with the few people who would have appreciated my find. My bubble was burst when on the following Tuesday I received a “thank you” note in the mail from—you know who—telling me that he had remembered his own finding experience relating to the candle stand a little differently. As it turned out, he had participated in a dealer sale in Lee County where dealers had brought merchandise gathered from various parts of the U. S. The bottom line, he couldn’t really attribute the stand to Texas. From Saturday afternoon until Tuesday…hmmm…I wonder when he wrote the card. Had the ink dried by the time I made it back to Houston? So much for the truth making life easier.

I don’t recall how much time passed before I had the courage to answer my one burning question about the candle stand. Most likely it was only a couple of months. The truth lay within easy reach. Under the lid of the stand, a piece of heavy paper was folded and lodged between the lid and the cleat that joined the pedestal to the lid. The cleat had been morticed into the lid, and over time shrinkage had caused the lid to become loose. The folded paper had been placed there many years ago in an effort to tighten up the lid, probably at the time the original blue paint was painted over.

A collector and friend visiting me in Houston announced on Saturday morning while we were having coffee, he still in his bathrobe, “let’s settle this”. So with candle stand in hand we headed to the garage for the paint remover. First, though, I dug the folded paper out of its paint-secured place, and on opening it found that it was a post card. Both sender and receiver were residents of Pennsylvania. It all made sense. Folky, graceful stand, lid morticed to the pedestal, square nails used in attaching the legs to the pedestal. Yes, too good to be true concerning the Texas provenance, but no stretch at all for it to be a wonderful, and perhaps rare, early, artful stand from Pennsylvania. The rest of the story concerning the candle stand isn’t really important. We removed the white paint, took the stand back into the house, where I had decided to enjoy it for its truth.

I kept the stand for a few years and sold it for a little profit to someone who wanted it because of its provenance. I told her the entire story. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about this episode in truth telling. From the arrival of the “thank you” note through today, I have smiled a little while sighing with regret that any of us needs to mess with the truth. We all do it, I assume to gain ground or accomplish some end that somehow seems important, even necessary at the time. Working over the truth isn’t limited to straight-out lying, however. It happens any time we reshape reality to suit our own needs—lying, fibbing, exaggerating, telling stuff at someone else’s expense, regardless of the truth. Perhaps the greatest irony in this pathetic tale is the guy who brought me to the candle stand. He claims to be “born again”. “Born into what,” I ask. Recently I discovered that a secondary definition for “impeccable” is “free from sin: so perfect in character as to be incapable of sinning”. Something else I read recently offers as a life guideline that we “be impeccable” with our word, that we use the power of our words in love and truth. I don’t see any perfection in my own future, but I sure like being reminded that truth-telling is a big, old energy boost to my memory.

The Good Thing About Telling the Truth—Santa Fe, New Mexico (October 17, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Friday, October 12, 2007

Somestimes it is About Choices

"I cried because I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no feet." I am blessed to be back in northern New Mexico, where the weather is cool and sunny, right now, that's all that matters. As I drove west from Santa Rosa and then across I-25 to Santa Fe, my eyes periodically caught the outside temperature that my truck can register. It dropped t0 79 just below Las Vegas...ahhh.

My landlady says that she and I will find out why we crossed paths. She also told me about THE FOUR AGREEMENTS by Don Miguel Ruiz. As I started this little book back in August, I thought, "here's another guy making a million off of a bunch of people who are clutching for a solution." Well, guess what, what I think doesn't really matter to anyone else. I read the agreements, and now they've gotten hold of me .

Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don't Take Anything Personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

Don't Make Assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

For Yourself

Do what you do for yourself.
Don’t do it for me.
Tell what you tell for yourself.
Don’t tell it for me.
See what you see for yourself.
Don’t see it for me.
Go where you go for yourself.
Don’t go there for me.
Be what you are for yourself.
Don’t be it for me.

For Yourself—Abilene, Texas (October 11, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Leaving Money on the Table

People who deal in tangibles of one kind or another have a term, “leaving money on the table”. Real estate, personal property, and for the people that I’m spending quality time with as fall begins in Texas 2007, what we call antiques are moving across the landscape. No different than any other time when people are exchanging things that have material consequence, we are all at least a little aware of the money we leave on the table. Knowing this doesn’t exactly fill us with a warm glow. Accepting this, however, is probably healthier than any of us realize.

Somewhere along the way years ago I got into the habit of focusing my efforts on selling to other dealers. The reasons are simple, really. Dealers are the most reliable buyers. Generally speaking, they have more knowledge, they have a better idea of what they want, they have a sense of what they can get for the things they buy, and perhaps at some level they understand how much they will enjoy having a certain object in their lives for awhile. I am keenly aware of how much I like having around me the things that please my eye, that fill a room with an “ahhh”, and sometimes even smell good. If you have any memories of family times in an old house, you know that warmth. A hand made cupboard has that warmth. Run your hand across the surface of a table that holds the memories of 150 years of human community.

Leaving money on the table is a Catch-22, a quandary, and the price for doing business. Regularly I give myself little lectures where I say that I’m going to hold out for better money. Sometimes I like something enough that I just say to myself, “I won’t take less than—pick a number—for this.”

I sold a quilt two days ago that brought me great joy every time I looked at it. I had bought it “right”, as we say, and I had high hopes that it would fetch a few hundred dollars. This was its second trip to the semi-annual market I do in central Texas. On the last trip, aside from a couple of dealers with whom I set up, no one even commented on the quilt, let alone ask for a price. I had draped it across the top of an eight-foot-tall display panel where it could command attention. And when the market ended, I folded it and returned it to the laundry bag that had protected it since it entered the market in someone else’s hands awhile back.

My quilt, fanciful circles of vintage fabric, stitched onto a field of red more gorgeous than any other red I’ve ever seen, backed with a yellow the color of the most beautiful sunflower you’ve ever seen, is now in the hands of a really nice woman whose eye was “caught” from across the building, where the quilt was once again draped across the top of an eight-foot-tall display panel. Dealer/buyers with keen eyes and similar taste had been through our set up, and none of them had expressed an interest in this quilt. I had mixed feelings, bittersweet, as I folded the quilt, returned it the laundry bag, and accepted the buyer’s check. “That should have brought a lot more money,” even though I had made a very respectable return on my investment. Wall Street should be so good to me.

I watched her carry the quilt across the parking lot, holding it by the hanger and draped across her back, as the yellow backing with red stitching disappeared around the corner. She was accompanied by her mother and her own little girl—three generations of their family. The quilt is for her second home in the small, country town where we sell. Later that day one of the dealers who sets up with me said “that quilt should have brought a lot more money”. “Yeah, it should have,” I replied.

Well, it’s all just stuff. Name your poison. Suddenly in some part of the world a place gets hot, and the real estate market catches on fire. Outsiders with big money pay big money, and some people who have lived there for generations end up having to sell and move because they can’t afford the property taxes. So you say, “well, they got good money. They can buy somewhere else.” I say, “What’s your point? They didn’t want to move to begin with.” It’s just land to some people, but to other people, it’s their home.

In a small West Texas town, someone has inherited a bunch of stuff from an aunt, so they’re having a garage sale to get rid of things. A beer flat contains a wealth of junk jewelry, including a rare Bakelite necklace. The flat costs five dollars. Luck of the draw, you just happen to be on a driving vacation, six hundred miles from home, basking in the cool, dry air and sunshine of an early November day, roaming through neighborhoods looking for garage sales, and as it turns out, you just happen to know someone who later tells you after you’ve priced it, “I’d put a ZERO behind that 35”. Later you say, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

A mother dies, and the family is forced to deal with all the earthly possessions she leaves behind. Odd, isn’t it, what people value. A water hose suddenly deserves to be transported 100 miles to a place that already has an abundance of water hoses. A sofa that never has been particularly comfortable and has no family history becomes a treasure. A quilt that was bought “right”, but was given as a gift instead of being sold, gets folded and added to a stack because it holds a memory. A quilt you bought and sold, that again caused you to laugh at Wall Street, won’t let go of you. So two years later you buy it back, and this time you have to put money on the table.

Leaving Money on the Table—Fayetteville, Texas (October 2, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Beautiful Man

Walk into my life, beautiful man
Don’t hold back, grip my hand
Walk into my life, beautiful man

Stand out from the crowd, beautiful man
Find new birth, catch my eye
Stand out from the crowd, beautiful man

Choose me from the span, beautiful man
Don’t assess, see my worth
Choose me from the span, beautiful man

Brush against my arm, beautiful man
Smell my face, taste my skin
Brush against my arm, beautiful man

Walk with me awhile, beautiful man
Breathe release, catch my dream
Walk with me awhile, beautiful man

Lean into my care, beautiful man
Trust your gaze, seize this day
Lean into my care, beautiful man

Beautiful Man—Fayetteville, Texas (October 3, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Friday, September 21, 2007

On Being Right

Recently I complimented a friend on the amiable relationship he and his former wife enjoy. I haven’t met her, but based on his comments about her, she must be one of the good people. I wondered aloud why so many relationships end in seeming hatred between the parties. “Self-loathing,” replied my friend. In another conversation—I don’t recall with whom I was talking—love and fear figured prominently into that person’s explanation of what drives human behavior. “Hmmm,” I’ve been thinking, “that’s simple”. It’s not, course.

In the heat of argument, as we hammer in the nail of truth—our version any—forefinger punching the air, fist pounding into open palm, open hands pleading to gain ground, we’re convinced that what we think and feel is, as some say, gospel. Oh, how good it feels when we think, “I am right”! At least, it feels good right then.

So if we are inclined to charge through life and relationships, we have plenty of opportunities to think “I am right”. We have plenty of opportunities to realize how relative right is, opportunities to realize how little being right matters at times, and yet more opportunities to realize how much damage we can do when we insist on being right. Forget logic, forget formal argument. Let go of ego, get humble.

My mother reminded me from the time I was a child of an observation a family friend made when I was just an infant. “He’s going to be a lawyer,” the friend said. Maybe the friend was a lawyer. I have always loved making a point, at times making the point. I know my limitations, though. I never had an interest in going to law school or being a lawyer. The stories my lawyer acquaintances have told me about law school, law books, lawyering, and the 15 years I spent working for lawyers toward the end of my professional career, underscore my lack of interest. It helps to enjoy the good argument if the objective is to win for your side. Suit coat buttoned, high heels poised, not for me. I’m stereotyping lawyers. They certainly do more than argue.

We are in the middle of taking another important step in coming to terms with our mother’s death this year. We are selling the home that was her official residence for a good part of the last ten years. Thirty-five hundred square feet of worldly possessions, plus a garage. We had all deposited a little or a lot of our own overflow there. In a way it feels good to know that we won’t have to worry with upkeep, insurance, utilities. We won’t have to dread the inevitable task of cleaning up after ourselves in this particular place. Poring over this mixture of worldly possessions—laying claim to favorite pieces of furniture, smaller objects with individual meaning, a box of small tools that our Daddy relied on, an amazing collection of yard tools. Where did all those yard tools come from?

We have argued, and we will continue to do so. Some of that is deep rooted, of long standing. There’s some distrust, some resentment. We are all different from one another, and we don’t seek the same from life, even though we were raised in the same household by the same parents. And we are all grappling with our own set of fears. Even though we love each other and want the best for one another, we somehow forget that each time we have an opportunity to disagree over who and what is right. I’m trying to accept that this won’t change, and probably can’t change. Pick your battles, but walk away from most of them. Learn to say, “it doesn’t really matter who’s right, does it”? The best thing to do is let go of the need to be right.
On Being Right—Normangee, Texas (September 21, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Show, Don't Tell

It seems appropriate on my birthday that I should try putting into words something profound, worthy, or at least, something that speaks to me. After all my years of massaging words—promising high school journalist, English major and graduate student, teacher, writer of business communications ad nauseum—I’ve had plenty of practice.

Many years ago, when I was a relatively new teacher, an important theory relating to writing appeared, once again, in school textbooks. Simply put, “show, don’t tell”. Don’t tell me that the soap on the kitchen counter smelled really fragrant. It happened to me in my great Uncle Henry and Aunt Stella’s kitchen. The counter was covered in faux marble linoleum, fashionable for the late 1940s-early 50s. The soap dish held Lifebuoy, a fragrance that smelled distinctly clean. I was sitting at the kitchen table, apparently expected to wait for something to happen, what I do not remember. Maybe I was just being quiet and attentive. Maybe I felt intimidated having been left alone at their home. Perhaps from that same visit, I can call up images of the iron beds and wardrobes arranged sparely on linoleum-clad Texas pine floors and the windows raised high, allowing sheer curtains to flutter in the breeze on cool spring nights.

At times when I feel inclined to let my fingers do the talking, I am reminded of Eliza Doolittle’s wonderful frustrations put to music, courtesy of Lerner and Lowe, from MY FAIR LADY. “Show me,” she exclaims:

Words! Words! Words! I'm so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you!
Is that all you blighters can do?

On this birthday, I am waiting out the morning and an invitation to drive down to Huntsville with my oldest sister Joan and my Aunt Edna, who was married to Mother’s only sibling. Virtually everyone is gone, as in gone, no longer part of the world we know. When I was six Aunt Edna and Uncle Bubba gave me the sterling and gold western buckle with my name, Harold Hollis, engraved in the gold ribbon that adorns the lower portion of this two-include square piece of art. I wear it almost daily. She is just about all that remains of the previous generation from the first 64 years of my life. Only Aunt Mary, one of Daddy’s sisters, who turned 90 on September 2nd, a birthday that my mother missed by only eight months this same year, remains from the Hollis siblings. Birthdates: Mary Louise Hollis Todd (9-2-17), Tena Elizabeth Fuchs Hollis (9-9-17), Russell Harold Hollis (9-16-43). Mother’s heart gave out. Aunt Mary’s mind is giving out.

The year 2007 has been especially tough for our family. I’m telling you that, perhaps showing it as well without realizing. What I’m not telling you about is all the growth that is also a part of this year. We’re changing, sometimes sad, sometimes frustrated, at times resentful and angry, other times overwhelmed, and probably the most damaging of all, at times afraid. At times my heart is filled with hope, and always with thanks. In spite of the emptiness and loss washing over me on the first birthday I have to celebrate with out my Mother, it’s my 64th, and I choose to make the best of it.

Eliza’s song about making love count, a paen to carpe diem really, is filled with hope-tinged determination. Odd, perhaps, that love characterized by physical fire would be juxtaposed against loss and nostalgia associated with the loss of a family loved one, especially one’s Mother. Who teaches us first about love? And who understands the wounded heart we experience along the way? What better definition of hope than love in action!

Don't talk of stars burning above;
If you're in love, Show me!
Tell me no dreams filled with desire.
If you're on fire, Show me!
Here we are together in the middle of the night!
Don't talk of spring! Just hold me tight!
Anyone who's ever been in love'll tell you that
This is no time for a chat!
Haven't your lips longed for my touch?
Don't say how much, Show me! Show me!
Don't talk of love lasting through time.
Make me no undying vow. Show me now!

Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme!
Don't waste my time, Show me!
Don't talk of June, Don't talk of fall!
Don't talk at all! Show me!
Never do I ever want to hear another word.
There isn't one I haven't heard.
Here we are together in what ought to be a dream;
Say one more word and I'll scream!
Haven't your arms hungered for mine?
Please don't "expl'ine," Show me! Show me!
Don't wait until wrinkles and lines
Pop out all over my brow,
Show me now!

Show, Don’t Tell
R. Harold Hollis—Normangee, Texas (September 16, 2007)

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Accepting the Assignment

Genesis 32: 26 “Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.’”

Perhaps one of the greatest rewards of not having to clock in each work day is the opportunity to be available for what the day might bring. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…,” goes the script of Mission: Impossible. Indeed, being available, which implies a degree of openness, is the assignment.

I guess I’ve paid my dues. Regardless, I did stop “clocking in” six years ago, and while I’m penalized to be sure for withdrawing funds early, both my pension and social security are helping to keep me afloat these days. My 401K had begun to show signs of severe abuse. Now, the modest good fortune of my parents, a legacy shared with my two sisters, is indeed a blessing. I am blessed to be living a somewhat ongoing vacation for the next several months in a place that has drawn me to it for 40 years.

For the past five weeks I’ve watched, sometimes waited, sometimes participated in the pageant of humanity that comes and goes at Santa Fe Baking Company, that place where I spend most early mornings. I’m always prepared with a book, which rarely holds my attention well enough to keep my head from bobbing up and down as people and sounds enter and exit the patio entrance where I usually sit.

It’s difficult for me to screen out conversations that are conducted at a volume that allows everyone on the patio to share the good news of what others think about just anything you can imagine. There’s healing, metaphysics, hucksterism, strife-laden cell phone conversations between estranged spouses, art therapy with a heavy coloring of Southern Baptist evangelism, and a good measure of bullshit, sometimes interesting but mostly not. And then, of course, there all those conversations that are conducted tete-a-tete. Those are really my favorites. If they prevailed, I’d make more progress on the book in hand.

I’ve found myself party to a few conversations, what I’m calling accepting the assignment, and repeatedly I find myself smiling inwardly at the realization that there really are no accidents when it comes to meeting people. We just have to pay attention. Indeed, we have to be willing to pay attention. It may matter only for the moment, and then it just might change how we feel about everything that is happening in our lives.

Today I met Louise. I noticed her first as she walked onto the patio carrying her paper napkin and cutlery, obviously anticipating her breakfast. Shortly, as I stepped over to a large trash container to empty my cold coffee, I noticed that Louise was having what I call the farm boy breakfast, and lots of it. I also noticed her hands, fingers very gnarled and incompletely developed. I winced with embarrassment for allowing my eyes to linger for even a second. Seated, I continued writing in the journal that I began keeping only yesterday.

Shortly, the lady of the farm boy breakfast stopped at my table and commented, “I see you’re reading THE ARTISTS’ WAY. It’s one of my favorite books.” An hour later, Louise, now seated and finally introduced by first name, we’ve made great strides in covering the waterfront…her husband, their travels, her time and their time in Texas and Houston, the death of her husband, her children, her painting, her very dysfunctional childhood, religion, reincarnation. She asked me many questions…what had brought me to Santa Fe, if I am an artist, about my antiques business. It seems that I asked a lot more questions than she did, and that my attempts to answer her questions were met with repeated interruptions. Every answer I started to give reminded her of something else she apparently needed to say. I tried to stay focused on all that she needed to say and even wrote down in my journal names and titles.

Among many other things, Louise commented on God, Christianity, great mystics, including Jesus, organized religion, spirituality, psychics, fear, sin, judgment, and forgiveness. I learned that in spite of her husband’s successful career as an engineer, following his death she has been forced to live on an amount of money that makes me shake my head in distress. And last week someone stole her car from in front of the apartment she rents here. Fortunately, the daughter who lives here in Santa Fe is able to provide Louise with a very used vintage diesel Mercedes. Her car, which was paid for, remains in absentia. She has forgiven the person who stole it.

During our conversation I had asked Louise if she had email, which led to a lengthy monologue on her husband’s death, their poor money management, his many marriages and children from each, her current meager resources, and of course, no email. I felt so thankful for my relative prosperity, in spite of indebtedness that I can manage without too much pain. Debt too is all about choices.

I told Louise about someone I had met at the baking company who is facing serious medical problems. She was led to tears. We had talked about forgiveness, letting go of judgment and anger. And though our conversation at times felt like a wrestling match, I kept reminding myself that she needed to talk on this morning in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a morning graced with 65 degrees and sunshine as we approached noon. We parted with her offer to help someone she had never met, and I was reminded that there really are no accidents when it comes to meeting people.

Accepting the Assignment
R. Harold Hollis—September 11, 2007 (Santa Fe, New Mexico)