Category Archives: Abilene

Where Were You in…a Long, Long, Long Time Ago?

Here’s a picture of me in my new Spanx. They really do work.

One of those high school reunions ending in a zero was fast approaching, and no way was I close to my goal of losing ten pounds and getting a facelift.

 A classmate told me not to worry, that it was just “a bunch of old people,” but I do have my pride. So I bought a pair of Spanx. In case you’ve never watched Oprah, Spanx resemble what we called a “girdle” back in high school, a device I swore I’d never wear again after the invention of pantyhose. Then, a few years ago, I renounced pantyhose. So wearing Spanx would be a real devolution for me, though they promised to smooth out unwanted rolls, lumps, and whatnot.

I probably burned a few calories squeezing into them the week before the reunion and wearing them around the house for practice. But, in the end, I opted for the ability to breathe unassisted.

But to the reunion:

The Food: Since I still hoped to lose a few pounds, it was fine with me there was no dessert at Friday night’s $17 hotel dinner, but I did hear some grousing. At the next day’s luncheon, one woman eyed the red and white peppermint in our hamburger carton and drolly remarked, “Great, we got dessert this time.”

The Reading of the Dead: Good news for one classmate—as the reading of names began, someone pointed out that one person on the list was not only still alive, but was also eating his lunch at a nearby table. I think he stood up and someone congratulated him. The woman faced with the task of reading the names, obviously flustered, said in all seriousness, “If I call out your name, raise your hand.”

A REAL reunion story: I’ll call them Bob and Peggy Sue. Bob and Peggy Sue split up during high school. Seems Bob got another girl pregnant and did the honorable thing and married the girl without bothering to explain the situation to Peggy Sue. Peggy Sue—heartbroken—eventually married someone else. Then, after decades of marriage, Bob and Peggy Sue both divorced their respective partners.

Bob immediately began looking for Peggy Sue, found her, married her, and now both are living happily ever after. I told him he was lucky she took him back.

By the time I’d heard the same version of this story from each of them, I was missing my own husband and my dog, who were three hours away. Besides that, my hotel room was too hot, and the wind had whipped my hair into what looked like half-eaten cotton candy, so I cut out early and headed home.

As a result, I missed Elvis, who was set to perform that night, but since I’d seen him in concert years ago when he was alive, I’ll hang on to that memory.

I do regret missing out on the barbecue dinner, but I’m thinking of it as the equivalent of losing five pounds and avoiding Spanx again when the next reunion rolls around.



Filed under Abilene, dogs, fat, friends, High School Reunions, home, husbands

The Red Shoes

You know how you look at something online or buy something online and then every time you open your browser, there it is, staring back at you? Lately it’s been a pair of red Crocs. Not the reptiles, but those plastic shoes people either love or hate.

Two years ago my mother had a stroke, which meant she needed skilled nursing care near me, almost 200 miles from her home in West Texas. You’re probably thinking, “Is this story going somewhere?” Yes, there is a Croc connection.

I soon learned that even in the best health care establishments, personal items sometimes get misplaced. For example, my mother’s eyeglasses—the kind with the huge frames—the kind identical to those of almost every other little old lady over 80. She’d take them off and leave them in out-of-the-way places only to have them appear a few hours or days later. Once when I visited, my mother’s roommate was wearing my mother’s glasses. I didn’t have the heart to tell her.  

Thanks to an online company that sells inexpensive eyewear, I solved the dilemma by getting my mother a pair of glasses with trendy, bright red frames. That way, if they got misplaced, everyone would know they were hers.

Then, a few weeks ago when her shoes disappeared (I later learned they were being cleaned), I realized she needed shoes easy to put on, easy to clean, and recognizable as hers. So I ordered a pair of red Crocs. Afterwards, I thought about Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz,” wishing Mama could click her heels together and find herself back home and healthy once more. 

The Crocs arrived in two days, but my mother never got to wear them. She died in the hospital a week later, three days after her 90th birthday.

Now, when the red Crocs pop up on the browser, I imagine my mother laughing and clicking her heels together. And then I see her on the front porch of her house with her beloved black Lab, B.J., beside her. He’s wagging his tail and licking her hand, so excited to see her that he’s like a young pup again.

She didn’t know he’d been waiting for her since summer on Rainbow Bridge.


Ava Mae Powell Howard (March 30, 1922-April 2, 2012) 

 Ava Mae Powell Howard, 90, a colorful, boisterous presence throughout West Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico for nearly a century who epitomized the rugged spirit of her forebears, died Monday, April 2, 2012, in Waco, Texas, after a brief illness. Strong-willed, outspoken, yet compassionate with those who took the time to know her, she was noted for her broad sense of humor and keen perseverance during a lifetime that saw her do everything from work in a once-famous hamburger hangout, to charming hotel guests such as fellow Oklahoman Ben Johnson, the famous stunt rider and Academy Award-winning actor.

Born March 30, 1922, in Snyder, Oklahoma, the daughter of Herbert Joseph Powell and Bertha Francis Van Buskirk, she moved to Abilene, Texas, in 1959, where she spent most of her life. Even so, she never failed to acknowledge her Sooner roots. A relative once remarked that Ava was typical of the resolute, enduring Okies who stayed and toughed out dust storms, drought, and economic devastation in the Great Depression when John Steinbeck’s famous Joad family instead loaded up and abandoned the region for California. Often vocal, opinionated, and hard-headed, Ava once claimed she sat quietly in the proverbial corner till she was age 21, listening to others opine and argue and spin tales, then resolved to make up for lost time herself. She was quick to make friends and had no qualms about striking up conversations with strangers. She could also strike faster than a rattlesnake if she thought she, a friend, or family member had been wronged.

Her curiosity knew few limits. Her obvious aptitude in school and early success in college only hinted at her real scholastic potential. After a year at Kiowa County Junior College, she spent a semester at the University of Oklahoma but quit to marry James Lowell Howard in January 1943 in the midst of World War II. After his return from war (including involvement in the Battle of the Bulge), the small family—by now including a daughter—followed his checkered career as an unusually talented, much sought-after, but wildly erratic baker across much of the American Southwest. Even as they moved frequently from one town to another, Ava Mae voraciously read library books and instilled in her daughter an early respect for education.

In Abilene, Ava worked at Lion Hardware, Thornton’s department store, and Baum’s Broiled Burgers during its late 1950s and early ’60s heyday. Later in life, Ava often recalled how her years as night desk clerk at LaQuinta Inn along windswept Interstate 20 in Abilene were among the happiest of her life, even though she was once robbed at gunpoint and often locked horns with management. Customers came from a wide range of backgrounds and included occasional celebrities such as country-western crooner Eddy Raven, who alternated between staying there and a fancier, high-dollar motel in town, dependent (she claimed) on how his career was faring. Through it all, she made a strong, lasting impression on both customers and co-workers. “She always listened and then always gave me her two cents’ worth,” a former colleague recalled. “I can still see her squinting up her sweet face and then saying, ‘Well, that SOB.’ She was a good friend through thick and thin. Everyone needs a friend like her. Her customers dearly loved her.”

Even during most of her retirement and decline in later years, she remained full of energy and curiosity, long after most her age had dismissed any new marvels of technology for the rocking chair. At one point, she acquired a fascination with anything electrical: VCRs, DVD players, TVs, tape players, CD players, and a camcorder she couldn’t afford (and tried to return to Montgomery Ward after six months on the grounds she’d charged it on their charge card). One family member concluded Ava was the reason many stores now have entire departments devoted to exchanges and returns. Her concept of credit reflected her Depression-era past. She once dismissed any concern about paying off her credit card bills because, she believed, “it all goes away after you die.”

Even in her final years in a retirement home in Waco, far from her beloved West Texas, she maintained a certain vigor and hearty sense of humor. “She wanted her newspaper every morning so she could read (her son-in-law’s) article,” one nurse recalled. “She would sit behind the desk with me while I got my morning stuff together, drinking Dr Pepper and eating honey buns. What a ham she was, always wanting us to take her picture. She posed for every one of them. She is one of the ones who remind me of why I love working with the elderly.”

Ava was preceded in death by her husband, James Lowell Howard, in 1981.

Survivors include daughter Ann Whitaker and husband Bill of Waco; brother Joe Powell and wife Irma of Snyder, Oklahoma; and grandson Michael Davis of Abilene.

The family deeply appreciates the staff at Ridgecrest Retirement and Health Care in Waco for their care of Ava during her last two years of life and for their ability to see past her speech difficulties-the result of a stroke in 2010-and their appreciation of her sense of humor and unique personality. The family also thanks the staff of Providence Health Center and Providence Hospice who tended to Ava during the last week of her life, working to ensure she was as comfortable as possible and poised to be just as vital in the next stage of her long existence.

In lieu of a New Orleans jazz funeral procession led by Al Hirt, as she once requested, Ava will be put to rest quietly at the Fairlawn Cemetery in Snyder, Oklahoma, near other kin.

Memorials in Ava’s name may be made to Waco’s Animal Birth Control Clinic or Rescue the Animals, SPCA, Abilene.


Filed under Abilene, dogs, eyeglasses, memorial, mothers, nursing homes, pet, rainbow bridge, shoes

Great Dane! And I don’t mean Hamlet

Though the headline is a tad confounding, if you keep reading, all will become clear. Yes, this is an old trick to entice you to keep reading. I’m a former English teacher. Enough said.

It was like old home week today at Waco’s Animal Birth Control Clinic monthly shot clinic, where I signed copies of my romantic comedy Dog Nanny, released in June.

First of all, a former student I hadn’t seen or heard from in 31 years showed up. Then my friend Patty, former colleague from Abilene High, appeared with her friend Sunny from nearby China Spring. (Photo above: Sunny, Patty, me)

In between, several local dog lovers dropped by:

Cyndi McDonald, my favorite dental hygienist (is that an oxymoron?), whose name I finally learned to spell–though I had to look up “hygienist” just now and probably will again

Shirley Whitaker, my mother-in-law, who wanted me to know she “supports me” (gotta love a MIL like that)

Bruce Kabat, my former editor at Waco Today magazine

Betty Hall from the local Romance Writers of America group (thanks, Betty)

Sandy Sanchez (an author herself), wife of Waco Tribune-Herald editor Carlos–of the same last name–and mother to Alec, Armand, Avi, and a couple of rescue dogs.

And my husband Bill, who, among other things

–took pictures
–ran over to Target and bought chocolate Hugs and Kisses (which promptly melted in the 100-degree-plus temps)
–didn’t flinch when I referred to him as my “manservant”

Meanwhile, several wonderful volunteers for the ABC efficiently herded a hundred or more dogs and their humans through the parking lot, under the awnings, and into rooms of the much-too-small clinic. It’s a precision performance you have to see to believe.

In case you haven’t been keeping up, the ABC really needs money so they can give the go-ahead to start work on their new building. And they really need a building of their own so they can move from their present cramped quarters.

So BEST OF ALL (see why below**), I sold 25 copies of Dog Nanny, which is a phenomenal amount considering I’m not Janet Evanovich (though as I mentioned in my previous blog, I wouldn’t mind being her, but only after I’ve first lived as Cher through one Las Vegas concert).

**Proceeds from sales of Dog Nanny are going to the ABC for its MUCH-NEEDED BUILDING FUND.

A final note of trivia from my four hours as a Janet Evanovich wannabe:

A woman I mentioned earlier (whose name I promise never to reveal) made this comment. “I can’t believe they can spay and neuter all those dogs so quickly!”

When I explained that today’s clinic was only for injections, tags, and microchipping, she clasped hands to her bosom and drew a deep sigh of relief.

So did the (intact male) Great Dane who’d been eavesdropping.


Filed under Abilene, Animal Birth Control Clinic, dog nanny, dogs, friends, Waco

Abilene, Texas: Valentine’s Day 1999

illustration by Patty Rae Wellborn

Love on Parole:

Ten-Year Anniversary

In 1999 when features editor Carol Dromgoole tapped me to write “Chapter 4” of a romance novella for the Abilene Reporter-News, I found myself in illustrious company: Marty Gregory, Cole Thompson, Terry Pringle, and Patrick Bennett. I was the only one who didn’t have a published book under my belt.

There was no story outline. I picked up where the first three writers left off. So Happy Valentine’s Day from 1999.

Chapter 4

Buffalo Gap. “Sin City” neighboring towns used to call the hamlet after it voted wet in 1965, back when Abilene and nearby towns were still dry. But its reputation was overrated. The worst thing Rain ever witnessed occurred in the pool room of the Bar-B-Que Barn when two good ol’ boys got in a shouting match over questions regarding John Wayne’s manliness—or lack thereof.

Rain had sworn she’d never go back. Not because of the fight, but because memories of Josh singing at the Bar-B-Que Barn flooded her with emotion. She missed him, and she missed those barbecue sandwiches. But he’d gone the way he would have wanted—choking on one of her very own, lovingly made leftover sausage-link sandwiches, refusing the Heimlich maneuver to the very end on the grounds it just wasn’t manly.

Although she usually didn’t speed, Rain roared 60 mph down Buffalo Gap Road, anxious to reach Patty’s, if only to see whether Gloria’s aunt had any rib-eyes stashed among her survivalist supplies. Deep down, though, Rain wasn’t so much interested in meat as she was in a certain hunk.

But if rib-eyes were to be had tonight, Patty’s would be the safest place to eat them. Last year, tough-talking, West-Texas-to-the-core Patty Wax had met a frightening adversary—the Y2K bug.

Though Patty knew her own computers were Y2K compliant, she was none too sure about those in the rest of the world. Just last weekend she’d spent $1,200 in Lubbock (“ground zero” for Y2K preparedness, if you believed what you read in the paper) on a 21st century survival kit. With that, plus her battery powered generator, her solar heating system, and enough bottled water to rid Abilene of its current drought, Patty planned to meet the new millennium fully prepared.

Rain stole a sideways glance at Jaxon. He winked boyishly, and her feet vibrated again, though he still stroked only her shoulder. She knew they were getting close to Patty’s when she saw the huge plastic bull that marked the entrance to the Perini Ranch.

As they approached the gate to Patty’s property, Rain suddenly quivered, noticing the northern sky turning an eerie reddish-brown. All at once, the heavens began to spit mudballs. If that weren’t bad enough, someone had taken down the lemon sign and replaced it with a computer-graphic heart shot through with a real arrow. Hearts weren’t exactly Patty Wax’s style, even if it was Valentine’s Day. It seemed a bad omen to Rain, who turned ever paler under her fake tan.

“I love a rainy night,” Jaxon sang, obviously oblivious to Rain’s changed mood. She had to admit his voice was huskier and sexier than Josh’s had ever been, but she was annoyed nonetheless.

“Bad pun,” she admonished, turning her head toward him so that a wave of her sun-streaked hair fell seductively over one eyebrow, as she raised the other for emphasis. She’d always hated anyone making fun of her name. She had to bite her tongue to keep from telling him “Jaxon” sounded like a name from a really bad romance novel.

Miffed, Rain downshifted and popped the clutch of her Volkswagen Beetle as they passed through the gate. Still sitting between them, though the space between the bucket seats must have been uncomfortable, Gloria pretended to awaken from her false slumber when the gear shift came too close to avoid notice.

Deliberately ignoring Rain, Gloria batted her short, mascara-beaded lashes and cooed to Jaxon, “Oh, great, sweetie, we’re here! This is going to be so cozy.” Then the tone of her voice changed. “That’s odd. There’s Patty’s Hummer,” she said, pointing to a camouflage-colored monster truck in front of what looked like a cellar door, “but I don’t recognize the Cadillac.” She was referring to a hoary-colored El Dorado parked at a jaunty angle under a lone mesquite. Just then Gloria’s cell phone rang shrilly. She answered.

After a series of enigmatic “uh huhs,” Gloria clicked off and said in a hushed tone, “That was Chief Rimer of the FBI. They just got word Joey ‘Knuckles’ Spugnoli was seen heading this way about an hour ago.”

The El Dorado before them suddenly seemed more ominous than the weather.

Rain checked to make sure that precious “Rosebud,” her beloved Smith & Wesson, was still strapped snugly at her slender waist, then gave her lipstick a quick nod in the rearview mirror.

“Stay here,” she ordered, cautiously opening a door and running in a Groucho-like crouch to the rear of the El Dorado. Fear shot through her heart like an arrow when she read the vanity license plate: “NUCKLES”—without the “K.”

Was Patty being held captive by Spugnoli? Was he lying in wait for the rest of them? With mudballs pelting her face and her white silk suit, Rain dashed back to her old VW to tell Gloria and Jaxon the terrifying news.

Rain was stunned when she opened the door and caught them both laughing. More suspicious was the way they suddenly quieted, the way people do when the person being talked about unexpectedly walks into the room. At that moment Rain knew in her heart her earlier eerie feeling was based on years of experience and not just a manifestation of PMS.

Something was definitely rotten in the state of Texas.

For the first time since Jaxon became such an integral part of her life, her mind was taking precedence over her heart. She’d been so star-struck, she’d overlooked the obvious. First of all, how had Gloria known so much about Jaxon and her conversation with the FBI back at the office? And why had Chief Investigator Rimer called Gloria instead of her? Did a Chief Investigator John Rimer even work for the FBI?

Rain’s face burned with anger and embarrassment. How could she have let herself be taken in by a cheap—OK, a rich—ex-con, even if he did have blue eyes, a cleft chin, broad shoulders, dark hair and a smoldering aura. She’d read enough to know that smoldering auras didn’t last past the honeymoon. She hadn’t kept her chaste treasure chaste until she was 36 years old by accident. OK, so she’d had her share of “improper relationships,” but she hadn’t had a sexual relationship with any man, even Randy Lewinsky. Not in the legal sense of the word, though she’d had a hard time convincing his wife of that fact. So what if the recent drought could also be applied to her love life? So what if she was love-starved and biologically at her sexual peak? She still couldn’t give herself to just any sweet-talking Lone Star Lothario. Besides, she had vowed to wait for marriage no matter how long it took. And if she wanted her feet to vibrate, she always had her new electric foot massager.

Humiliated she had let Jaxon take liberties with her shoulder, shame and self-loathing consumed her small, shapely frame. Granted, Jaxon qualified as a choice hunk of Texas beefcake, but any God-fearing Texas gal knew even the devil had the power to assume a pleasing shape.

Rain looked daggers at Jaxon, yet almost weakened her resolve when he returned her look with a questioning hurt expression. She would add “good actor” to his list of attributes, but he wasn’t going to fool her again. Then, before she knew what was happening, the dam broke and a flood of tears poured out of her bluebonnet-blue eyes and cascaded down her blusher-enhanced cheeks, not unlike the slide at Wet & Wild.

“Too much water hast thou, poor Rain,” said Jaxon in a convincingly sympathetic tone.

Now he was quoting Hamlet. What else would she discover they had in common before this Valentine’s Day from Hell was over?

“Suck it up,” her father used to say when she cried. She summoned all her strength and did just that, and as anger returned with West Texas tornadic force, her nostrils flared like those of the horse in The Horse Whisperer. Jaxon McCullouch might look like a young Brando, she thought, tossing her blond mane, but it would be cold, rainy day in Abilene before she’d play Stella to his Stanley.


Filed under Abilene, Abilene Reporter-News, romance, Texas, Texas Star Trading Company, Valentine's Day