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