Painting ©2018 John Clark III
Howdy, folks. Time flies, don't it? I mean -- doesn't it?
Quite a bit of water under the bridge since that last blog about Christmas with the Clarks. I've cranked out a few new books (see the My Books tab at the top of the page), taken up painting, and even sold a few of my masterpieces at a couple of art shows!
Before too long, I plan to add a "John's artwork" page to this site, but in the meantime, I'll try and post a few examples of what I've been doing here on the blog.
If you've ever thought about trying your hand at painting, or some other type of artwork, I say go for it. Early results might not be so terrific -- some of mine were awful -- but you'll be surprised at how quickly you improve. There are lots of great lessons and such on YouTube, and it's a mighty satisfying way to scratch that creative itch.
My latest batch of books is all about depression and related issues, a subject with which I am all too familiar. I've suffered from depression, and what I've only recently learned is a lack of self-worth, most all my life.
If you or someone you know and care about is in the same boat, I encourage you to check it out. Just click on the "My Books" tab up above.
Take care, y'all.
More later ...
Last weekend, I drove down to Houston to have Christmas dinner with my dad, stepmom and my aunt.
I know Christmas is this week, not last week, but family holidays in the Clark clan are a little, um … shall we say, complicated.
Childhood memories of Christmas for me are good ones. Helping dad put up lights around the outside of the house; decorating the tree inside with lights, ornaments, tinsel; going to see Santa at the department store.
Watching special television shows, like A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Helping mama make fudge, divinity, and cut out and bake colorful cookies – snowmen, Santas, reindeer, candy canes – squeezing out ribbons of icing just so on top, and adding red hots and sprinkles.
My brother, sister and I always got one “big” present and then a few “little” ones. Christmas stockings were bulging with candy and various little trinkets.
Then there were the trips across town to see grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins we hardly knew and only saw once a year. More presents, cookies, candy, food, and my old man operating his movie camera with the giant light bar across the top, blasting beams of illumination so bright that all the people in those now-lost home movies were half-turned away, squinting their eyes, and waving.
As we kids got older, and even after I moved out on my own, Christmases remained a fun-filled family affair, and then things started to change.
Divorces started happening, grandparents started dying, simmering family feuds boiled over, and holidays started getting more … untraditional.
My mother – heart and soul of the family – has been gone for 15 years now. She was diagnosed with a nasty brain tumor, underwent surgery and the usual array of punishing follow-up treatments, but never really had a chance.
After my parents got divorced when I was 24 years old, it was always great fun going to mama’s house over near Bryan-College Station for the holidays. Grandma was always there, sitting in her easy chair with two cocker spaniels curled in her lap. One dog was named Martha, and I don’t remember the other one’s name.
There was an old pot-belly, wood-burning stove in the corner, and Christmas movies playing on the TV.
Mama loved to celebrate, and there were colorful, twinkling lights and decorations all over the place; a big, sparkly tree in front of the living room window; carefully wrapped gifts piled high; and lots and lots of delicious food. Big ol’ turkey, ham, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, giblet gravy, yams with melted marshmallows on top, cranberry sauce, sweet pickles, black olives, green olives, celery sticks stuffed with cream cheese, fresh rolls, fruit salad, an assortment of homemade pies. All the usual stuff.
My brother was there, and my sister with her kids. There was lots of laughing and story-telling and good times.
Fast-forward to today.
My sister and I haven’t shared a kind word since before my mother’s memorial service in June 2000. Grandma died a year later. I have neither seen nor spoken to my little brother in about five years. Mama’s father, Paw-Paw, committed suicide back when I was in college, and my aunt – mama’s sister – never came around much.
When mama died, the family basically detonated. Ka-boom. Blown apart. Nobody around anymore to hold it all together.
As for my father, our relationship has always been a little tricky.
Now that he’s nearing 80 years old, my dad has turned into a squishy, lovey-dovey, touchy-feely old dude, but in his prime, he was the complete opposite.
We don’t see a whole lot of each other, but we talk on the phone now and then, and he always tells me how proud he is, how much he loves me, and all that good stuff, but it took a long time for those words to come out of his mouth. I still remember the first time I ever heard him say anything like that.
I was 26 years old, and we were standing in an upstairs apartment I had on Bissonnet Street in southwest Houston. He had stopped by for a quick visit, and as he was leaving, he suddenly stepped forward, hugged me close and said, “I love you.”
I froze, with my arms down at my sides. What in the hell is this? Did it make me feel all warm and fuzzy, to finally, at long last, hear my old man say those words to me?
No, it did not.
What it did, in all honesty, was kind of p--- me off. All I could think about was, “Where was that when I was 10 years old, and wanted more than anything in the world to hear those words from my daddy?
I found out fairly recently that it was basically the same for him when he was growing up. In fact, he told me that he and his father never once said “I love you” to each other, even when my granddaddy was on his deathbed in a downtown Houston hospital in 1962.
But, he says it all the time now, and I say it back.
It’s strange to watch your dad go from a tall, strong, macho man to a frail, hunched over, shuffling old guy who sometimes needs help getting out of his overstuffed chair. For most of his life, he and I were the same height – 6-feet, 1 ¾ inches – although he always outweighed me by nearly 100 pounds. Now, he stands 5-9, and I imagine I’ve got him by 20 or 30 pounds.
And then there’s his sister, Aunt Nita, who touches my heart every time I walk in the room and see her eyes light up, and a big smile cross her face. Uncle Howard, a motorcycle-riding, Donald Duck-imitating toy collector who served as crew chief on a World War II bomber, died from a massive heart attack a few years ago at age 95. They were together for 50-something years, and Nita will never get over his death.
My stepmother, Deanna, an Oklahoma native who has been married to my dad for 20-something years and has three sons of her own, takes care of everybody.
She and I are not very close, but I admire and respect and appreciate her for being the kind of person willing to do the vast majority of all-day, every day caretaking for a couple of elderly folks who could not survive on their own. I told her so last weekend as we stood alone in the kitchen, surrounded by enough homemade holiday food to feed a platoon, and she said, “Well, we all kind of take care of each other.”
My niece and a nephew I haven’t seen in about 15 years showed up, which was nice. Emily, my sister’s middle child, is a college student and aspiring novel writer who has been through a lot with her mother. She asked me to take a look at a writing project she is working on, and it was really pretty good.
Apparently, my brother was also invited to the little shindig, but came down with a sudden illness, probably after finding out that brother John was going to be there.
It is a strange situation. Sort of a Brady Bunch-style family in which the kids are either virtual strangers, or can’t stand the sight of each other. Like I said, it makes for some complicated holidays and other occasions.
So, if your family is close, and everyone is able to peacefully spend time together on holidays, birthdays and such, consider yourself both fortunate and blessed.
Merry Christmas, y’all.
I interviewed a fella a few hours ago who turns 100 years old on Friday.
Such an honor for me.
Just now, I was looking at a photograph I took of him sitting in his easy chair, with one of his daughters on one side and one of his granddaughters on the other side. All were smiling brightly, with a joy and happiness radiating from their expressions that was remarkable.
I didn't notice it while I was there, talking to this quiet, rugged, gentle old man and his girls. It dawned on me later, as I decided which photo to use when this story runs in Friday's paper.
It was love. Pride.
Family pride and love.
Interviewing people and writing their stories is something I love to do.
Their stories constantly amaze me, and almost always reinforce something that it took me a long time to find out -- down deep inside, behind the masks, the pain and suffering, hurts and disappointments, tragedies and triumphs, different backgrounds and upbringings, all of us humans are pretty much the same.
Granted, there are mean people out there who enjoy hurting other people, and there is evil in the world, to be sure, but for most of us, we are all just out there slugging away, doing the best we can to be happy.
Today, I spent an hour with a guy I'd never met, a Desert Storm veteran who is now disabled, ostensibly to talk about the impressive comic book collection he has amassed since leaving the military 20 years ago. As he showed off different parts of the collection, he somewhat casually mentioned seeing his stepfather beat his mother to death when he was 10 years old.
He continued talking, as if this little detail from his past was just another day in the life, until I said, "Uh, hang on a second, Mike. Let's go back to that for a minute."
Imagine this being your life story: growing up in a family of eight kids in the deep South, in the midst of poverty and abuse, moving back and forth across various states, never staying in one place for more than six months; watching your mother beaten to death by your abusive stepfather; living the next eight years in a children's home; joining the Army, seeing buddies die and seeing yourself kill enemy soldiers; experiencing the death of your only child; being discharged from the Army and coming down with an untreatable, apparently lifelong medical condition.
That is not the amazing part of the story, though. The amazing part is that this guy says he has had a great life. He has no complaints, and is perfectly happy and content. Even if he could, he wouldn't change a thing.
"I have more to be thankful for than I have to not be thankful for," he told me. "What do I have to complain about?"
Oh, and he's got a great comic book collection. Did you know that, back in the day, Superman couldn't fly and didn't have x-ray vision?
Well, now you know.
A great day today. Rolled out of bed a little before 6 o'clock, and since I was the first human of the house to get up and about, I was in charge of the morning animal routine, which goes something like this:
Put the dog out in the backyard to do morning business; go back to cat's room and load cat automatic feeder while starving and bulimic cat meows over and over; return to dining room and put some dog food in dog dish; let dog back in.
Dog eats, while cat -- who by now has inhaled her first portion of the day's feeding -- sits nearby, waiting patiently to see if the dog leaves anything behind. I take a seat on the couch with my coffee, checking email and book sales and such, hearing dog crunch its food, while cat waits patiently for any leftovers to be had. Crunching stops, so I get up and go look to make sure the dog dish is empty, because if there is some food left, cat will quickly scarf it up and regurgitate a few minutes later.
Bowl looks empty, both animals are fed and watered. Time for me to finish my coffee, get dressed and head out for my 7:15 tee time. Then, I hear some faint crunching sounds coming from the area of the dog dish. What the heck? Dog is there on the sofa, so it must be ... it's the damn cat. Dish was not completely empty. Shoo the kitty away, secure and cover the dog dish, return to couch.
A few minutes later ... retching sounds from down the hallway, and voila! Neat pile of regurgitated dog food on the carpet. Good grief ...
Never fear, though. Dog likes its food both at room temperature or warmed to a cat's body heat, and slightly moistened. All that was left for me was to spray a little cleaner on the spot and scrub a bit with a wash cloth. All done!
That was not what made today a great day, though. I finally had a nice round of golf, after a couple weeks of stinking up the place. I trounced my friends Bubba and Gator, took ALL the winnings from our usual wager, and used my windfall to buy a burrito for lunch. Even had a little change left!
Had the privilege of speaking on the phone for nearly an hour today with Dan Rice, who was in his car on some backed-up California freeway headed somewhere in his never-ending quest to preserve one of America's great historical landmarks -- Route 66.
I recently completed the 2,400-mile drive along the Main Street of America, from Chicago to the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica, Calif. Rice, 45, owns a souvenir shop on the Santa Monica Pier and that was my last stop before heading back home. Unfortunately, Dan was not there, but one of his employees, a young man named Bryan, assured me he would leave his boss a message and my card.
As we stood there talking, Bryan asked me if I was a Christian. I told him, no, not really. I consider myself more of a seeker.
"Oh, that's cool," Bryan said, smiling. "You are seeking the truth, then?"
I said, yes, and after I bought a couple of Route 66 T-shirts, Bryan asked if he could pray for me before I left. Sure, I said, and he extended his hand across the counter of the small shop. With hundreds, probably thousands, of people bustling back and forth along the famous pier, this guy I'd never met and will likely never see again held my hand and prayed for my blessing and safety.
It was pretty cool.
Dan and I emailed back and forth a couple of times, but never connected until this afternoon. He's a pretty amazing guy -- one of those genius entrepreneur types who was on his way to earning a doctorate in psychology when a terrible car crash nearly killed him. It took him a long time to recover, but now he has built a small and growing empire centered around his love for Route 66, and efforts to preserve what he fears may be a dying part of history.
This guy has driven Route 66 not once, not twice, not 10 times. How about 29 times? He told me that his grandfather, who was from Chicago, showed him the downtown streets where Route 66 begins when he was a little boy, and told him it was a road that traveled all the way across the country to Los Angeles, where Fonzie (remember Happy Days?) lived!
Young Dan was hooked, and several years later, traveled part of the Mother Road for the first time with his father. Now, he is one of the leading experts on Route 66 and its history, and he told me some wonderful stories, including what Route 66 means to him. His comments were personal and heartfelt, and once again, as is always the case when people bare the souls in response to my questions, I was honored.
Dan wrote a book, "End of the Trail," about his experiences on Route 66, along with his eight-year struggle to recover from Traumatic Brain Injury following his car accident.
I'm excited to be able to include my interview with him in my upcoming book about my trip on the historic highway.
Time to get to work ...
Damn, saddened by the news of Ken Stabler's death from "complications associated with colon cancer." I guess that means the treatments are what actually did him in. Best known for his years playing quarterback for the Oakland Raiders under legendary coach John Madden, he was 69 years old.
Gone too soon.
Stabler, an all-American in college at Alabama who was nicknamed "The Snake" in high school for his elusive style of play, was one of the great characters in the NFL, on a Raiders team full of characters, like Ted Hendricks, John Matuszak, Lester Hayes, Dave Casper, Jack Tatum, Gene Upshaw, Phil Villapiano, and who can forget the great wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff. What a team that was, winning Super Bowl XI in 1977.
Always known for his coolness in pressure situations, one of my favorite Stabler stories was the time during an overtime game when a charged-up Madden called his quarterback to the sidelines to talk strategy. With the game on the line and the crowd going wild, Stabler looks up into the stands and says, "These folks are sure gettin' their money's worth, ain't they, coach?"
He was one of the best, and certainly one of the most colorful quarterbacks during one of the NFL's greatest eras. Remember these names?
So long, Snake ...
Had to hustle today to find a story for this Friday's paper after my interview fell through at the last minute.
I'd been down to John's Java House in Copperas Cove a couple of times, and the owner looked like an interesting guy -- tall, friendly, long salt-and-pepper ponytail down his back -- and I had him on my mental list of possible story victims, I mean subjects, so I decided today was the day.
When I got there, he was behind the counter, talking to some dude, and when I explained who I was and what I wanted, he paused for half-a-minute, then kind of smiled and said, "OK, sure, when you want to do this?"
"Right now," I said.
We sat on opposite sides of the corner table and he asked if I wanted a coffee. I probably should have taken him up on the free offer -- never turn down something free -- but I'd already had some coffee at home, and it's all I can do to finish one cup. That first sip in the morning is absolutely glorious, but it's all downhill from there for me. I usually drink about half a cup, and then I'm done for the day.
"Well, I want one," he said, jumping up and heading back for the kitchen. He came back a few minutes later and I turned on my recorder, after snapping a few photos of him sitting there with his cup of coffee.
It was a great conversation, but I'm gonna make you wait until Friday to find out more. Turns out his name is indeed John, and he's from Minnesota by way of California, spent 15-plus years in the U.S. Army and has suffered his fair share of trials and tribulations during his 53 years.
It's always amazing, and one reason why I love writing about people. Everyone has been through "stuff." Some worse than your stuff, and some not-as-bad. But all of us go through hard times, one way or another, suffer pain and setbacks and loss and everything else.
And it affects people differently. Like John said, you can react to it in a negative way or a positive way. Some people become angry, bitter, resentful, depressed, while others respond just the opposite.
Look for the story in Friday's Copperas Cove Banner, available at various locations throughout town. For you out-of-towners, you can go to covebanner.com, click at the top on e-edition, then click on the front page icon, then on current edition. My column runs on p. 5.
Adios, y'all ...
I fully expected the Earth to open up and swallow me on the way home.
After a blissful late sleep until 9 o'clock, a nice cup of coffee and some doodling around on the laptop, the wife and I were off to the Verizon store in Copperas Cove.
A few days ago, I said, 'Let's go Monday to be treated rudely and get new phones.' Unfortunately, I was mostly being serious. My old phone has been on its last legs for a while, and last Thursday, I went down to the aforementioned phone store, spent about 15 minutes being completely ignored, before I finally walked out.
Today was Round 2.
To my surprise and delight, a young lady named Rachel greeted us with a big smile as we walked in the door, and provided the best customer service I've had in ... I don't know how long.
While I was on my Route 66 trip, I reported a grocery store cashier to the manager after the girl ignored my 'How are you?' when I walked up, never said a word or made eye contact, just took my money, practically threw my change at me and turned away. Not a thank you, a screw you, have a nice day, have a rotten day -- not a word, a smile, nothing. Same thing on Sunday when we stopped for breakfast tacos on our way back from Galveston.
So I was ready for more of the same today, but it was a more than pleasant experience. Rachel took care of us with smiles, laughter and a sense of humor, not to mention impeccable professionalism. If you're a Verizon customer and you need anything, ask for Rachel and go when she is working.
After that, we stopped by Arby's for a couple of to-go chicken salad sandwiches -- very good stuff -- and, once again, were greeted with smiles, courtesy and friendliness.
I was sure disaster would strike before we could make it safely home, possibly when we reached that sinking spot on the new bypass between Walmart and 2657. That's where we'd be swallowed whole.
What's the deal with that sinking spot anyway? They were out working on it again.
Anyway, cheers and Happy Trails, y'all ...
A few reviews of John's books
The 30-Day Optimism Solution:
“Part memoir, part informative text. You get both when reading 'Depression Blues' by John H. Clark III. Mr. Clark shares his struggles with depression in an honest and real way, and as the book progresses, so does his hope. Woven into the story as jumping off points are bits of information about depression and ways to "conquer" the sadness, loneliness, and despair that comes with it.
Mr. Clark becomes more than an author in this book; he becomes a friend who understands the pain of depression and provides light. I recommend this book to anyone looking for light or to anyone who knows someone with depression and wants to learn more.”
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