Published in the Rains County Leader on July 28, 2022:
Sundays have changed a lot since I was a kid, in fact, weekends in general were a lot different. Saturdays were sleep late days, but not very late. During the week Mom woke me up while it was still dark so she could fix my hair and make sure I was presentable before she left to catch the bus to work at 6:30. On Saturdays she let me sleep a little later, but I usually woke up on my own when the smells of coffee and bacon made their way into my room.
After breakfast, it was housecleaning time. My job was cleaning bathrooms and dusting while Dad did the floors and Mom did the laundry and cleaned the kitchen – and her kitchen was always spotless except when I cooked. After lunch, Dad would move to his outdoor chores and Mom and I would go shopping. There were a few interesting stores in downtown Mesquite, but after the Big Town Mall opened in 1959, that was our usual destination. After a quick tour of the bargain racks, and maybe a stop at the candy counter in Woolworth’s for a small bag of cashews or chocolate candy, we’d move on to Minyard’s, the only grocery store in town besides Anderson’s Market. We always finished our rounds well before dinner time because everything but the convenience stores closed at 6:00 pm on Saturday and didn’t reopen until Monday morning.
Saturday evening was dedicated to getting ready for Sunday. I had long, thick hair – and this was before home hair dryers – so the first task was to wash my hair and roll it up in pin curls or brush rollers. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep very comfortably on Saturday nights, and I had to get up early on Sunday so I could stand in front of the heater if my hair wasn’t dry. Sunday clothes were also checked to be sure everything was clean and neatly pressed, and shoes were shined. Mom probably did some preparation for Sunday dinner, but I don’t remember that part. By then I was probably reading – first my Sunday School lesson so I could check that box on my offering envelope and then whatever library book I was reading at the time.
Published in the Rains County Leader on July 14, 2022:
One of the main topics of conversation in northeast Texas for the last couple of weeks is the heat. “Weather” is probably one of the most commonly accessed apps as people follow the temperature, humidity, and “feels like” stats. Of course, all you need to do is step out the door into the oven-like heat to know that it’s HOT!
Some of the younger generations blame the current heat wave on global warming or climate change, but those of us who have lived for several decades spanning two centuries know that the climate has been changing cyclically since the events in the first chapter of Genesis. Two such incidents are particularly vivid in my memory, so I looked them up in Wikipedia.
The first one began two years after I was born and continued until I was ten years old. Wikipedia describes it like this:
The 1950s Texas drought was a period between 1949 and 1957 in which the state received 30 to 50% less rain than normal, while temperatures rose above average. During this time, Texans experienced the second-, third-, and eighth-driest single years ever in the state – 1956, 1954, and 1951, respectively.
Published in the Rains County Leader on May 26, 2022:
We will celebrate Memorial Day on Monday. It’s a day that began in 1868 as a time to honor Union soldiers who died in the Civil War by decorating their graves with flowers. It has evolved into a celebration of all who have served our country in any way. Although some still decorate graves with flags and attend services of remembrance, it has also become a celebration of the summer season that is only a few weeks away. One of my early columns was about the more serious side of Memorial Day, and I’d like to share it with you this week.
Memorial Day is a day of hope and remembrance, of remembering those who gave their lives in the service of their country. Why is remembrance important – and what is our hope?
Some of the stories we remember are of epic proportions, involving thousands of troops and tons of metal that was fashioned into war machines of all kinds. The stories that move us most, though, are the individual stories of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, and the loved ones who love and miss them.
Published in the Rains County Leader on May 5, 2022:
In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a slightly updated chapter from my second memoir titled “Mom’s Long Goodbye:”
I miss Mom. I’ve missed her for a long time. For most of my life, I talked to her almost every day, but after Alzheimer’s invaded her mind, those talks gradually lost their meaning.
Mom was smart, but she was never an intellectual. She didn’t care much about politics or philosophy or current events. She cared about her family and the things that affected our lives directly.
She went to work outside our home when I was in third grade, and Jim and I became latchkey kids. It was a gentler time when children played outside unsupervised and walked or rode their bikes to school without fear. But Mom was cautious. We were required to stay inside when she and Dad were at work, and I was expected to call her when I arrived home from school.
Published in the Rains County Leader on November 24, 2021:
In preparing to write this week, I read last year’s Thanksgiving column called “How Thanksgiving Grows.” The gist of the story was that, because of residual fears about COVID, none of our usual family gatherings occurred, so I planned to fix a small but special meal for David and me. However, by the time the big day came, we had three guests, and I spent the best part of two days fixing the customary multi-course feast. This year we will be sharing a traditional celebration with David’s sisters – and we had to turn down two other invitations.
Although I enjoyed the memories, the article didn’t help much with this week’s column. After that I went to Facebook and scrolled through my photos. I didn’t take many pictures last Thanksgiving, but I did find one of the kitchen island loaded down with food. There was also a photo of the leftovers the next day when we invited the neighbors back for a rerun. I remember feeling grateful that we could enjoy another go-round without all the work and also that all that food wouldn’t go to waste.
From there, I scrolled through the rest of the year. Again, there weren’t a lot of pictures, but there were enough highlights to inspire a gratitude list for this week:
Published in the Rains County Leader on November 11, 2021:
In February of 1965, nineteen-year-old Robert Worley was accepted into the U.S. Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class as a lance corporal E-3. He admits that, at the time, he had never heard of Vietnam – he was busy trying to adapt to college after Paducah High School. Three weeks later, everyone knew about Vietnam.
On March 8, 1965, President Johnson launched what became a three-year campaign of sustained bombing of targets in North Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Operation Rolling Thunder. The same month, U.S. Marines landed on beaches near DaNang, South Vietnam as the first American combat troops to enter Vietnam. Still, Worley thought the war, which was being called a police action, would be over by the time he graduated from college in 1968.
However, before he received his degree he was being trained by Vietnam veterans, and the TET offensive turned 1968 into the bloodiest year of the war. In October of 1969, 2nd Lt. Robert Worley was sent to DaNang Air Base as part of the First Marine Aircraft Wing. He was assigned as the Supply Officer for Marine Composite Reconnaissance Squadron 1. In December, he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant.
By then, Worley had learned some of the history of Vietnam. The French preceded the United States in South Vietnam until May 7, 1954 when North Vietnam defeated them at Dien Bien Phu. The U.S. provided the French and South Vietnam with money and became secretly involved in the war in 1955 as soon as the French left. The first official U.S. death in Vietnam occurred in 1960, and President Kennedy officially entered Vietnam in 1961 with troop buildup. By 1962, nine thousand American troops were in South Vietnam in an advisory capacity but some were being killed. In February of 1965, President Johnson ordered the bombing of targets in North Vietnam in Operation Flaming Dart in retaliation for a Viet Cong raid at the U.S. base in the city of Pleiku and at a nearby helicopter base at Camp Holloway.
The Vietnam War is a controversial part of our nation’s history with many attributing shameful and brutal behavior to the American military and touting the humane conduct of the North Vietnamese. Among the many spreading pro-Communist and anti-U.S. rhetoric were John Kerry, Dan Rather, and Walter Cronkite, to name a few. Most notable among these is Jane Fonda who toured Vietnam in July of 1972 where she visited several sites including the Hanoi Hilton, the infamous Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi. After her visit, Fonda concluded that the U.S. was unjustly bombing farmland and other sites far removed from military targets. She also claimed the Vietnamese provided their prisoners of war with the most humane treatment in the history of war.
John Kerry also spent three months in Vietnam. After returning home to run for congress, he told about how inhumane the U.S. military was. Kerry was once asked by David Frost if the South Vietnamese people liked U.S. soldiers. Kerry’s answer was that the Americans were hated. But Worley has a completely different story to tell.
Shortly after being stationed in DaNang, Worley discovered that his unit regularly sent medical civic action patrols far into the jungle to take medical teams – doctors, nurses, dentists, surgeons, and other volunteers – to offer treatment to South Vietnamese who had been brutalized by the North Vietnamese. They worked in crude conditions, doing amputations in mud huts and performing dental procedures on patients sitting in a regular chair while sitting on a four-legged stool. All personnel kept helmets and pistols at the ready in case of attack. The medical teams were always accompanied by a Marine reinforced rifle company for protection. Worley went once as an observer, and he said once was enough. He went on to say, “It was a sobering day, seeing the torture and cruelty the North Vietnamese did to Vietnamese natives who they thought were friendly to the Americans.” The First Marine Aircraft Wing received the Civic Action Medal from the South Vietnamese government for these trips and more that benefitted the South Vietnamese.
Although the medical missions were not for him, Worley still wanted to be part of what was included in that “more.” When he discovered that a group of Marines, enlisted and officers, and Vietnamese Air Force officers were teaching English as a Second Language at a Catholic orphanage, he wanted in. Every Tuesday night the volunteer teachers dressed in flak jackets and traveled through enemy territory to Ahn Sang School where they taught grades 1-12 and others. They were shot at on the way to the school, and classes were taught to the background of the sounds of war.
The students in Worley’s class included a high school principal, a nurse, and a teenage boy. The teenager was a Montagnard Indian, a generic term for Vietnamese natives who lived in the mountains and were fiercely anti-communists. One of Worley’s most treasured war relics is a hand-carved wooden water buffalo bell given to him by this student. His favorite ESL memory is the evening he spent explaining America’s favorite pastime to a class who didn’t know what baseball was.
In direct rebuttal to John Kerry’s claim that the South Vietnamese hated Americans, Worley said, “We were all that was between them and genocide.” When Nixon announced a phased withdrawal, his ESL class was in tears, asking why the Americans were leaving them. “They were terrified, and they all wanted us there,” he added. On his last night, Worley gave a graduation speech. “I told them to be strong. I said that even though the good guys were pulling out, their army could prevail. I lied.”
Of course, not all the natives were as cordial. The South Vietnamese bought garbage from the Americans, and some of those people were used to set up attacks on the base. One day Worley noticed a mama-san walking very slowly and carefully across the base. Later, it was realized that she was making markers for a planned rocket attack. In early 1970 during one of these raids, a Vietnamese rocket exploded close to his hooch, landing squarely on an enlisted hooch. One enlisted Marine was killed, seven were injured, and Worley eventually developed tinnitus and went deaf.
Another of Worley’s treasures is a signed copy of When Hell Was in Session, a book written by Admiral/Senator Jeremiah Denton. The inscription reads Robert, To one of the best who always got there 1st. In response to Jane Fonda’s comments about the Hanoi Hilton, Worley refers to that book. Denton was a prisoner at the time of Fonda’s visit. He says that, before she arrived, prisoners were cleaned up and given new clothes, and anyone who showed signs of being beaten or punished was secluded.The prisoners were lined up, and Fonda shook hands with each one. Denton says the man next to him palmed a note to her giving names of some of the other prisoners, and that she passed it on to the prison guards. After she left, that prisoner was beaten to death.
When asked what he most wanted people to take away from his story, Worley said,“We were not murderers.” He conceded that atrocities occurred in Vietnam. “There were a few who were vicious,” he said,“but there are vicious people in regular civilian life. The vicious ones of the 2.1 million who served in Vietnam were in the minority.
“One of the hardest times for those who served ‘boots on the ground’ in Vietnam was the return. We were aware of the nation’s attitude toward us during and after Vietnam. I only encountered the negativism a few times, and it wasn’t that bad for me. But I had friends who were cursed at, spit on and called ‘baby killers.’ That was really sad. I only got accused of being a baby killer once. Some of the most ardent promoters of that attitude – John Kerry among them – are still with us and still spewing out stupidity. To this day it is appropriate to say to a Vietnam veteran – ‘Welcome Home!’”
Worley left Vietnam in May of 1970 as a 1st Lt. He was transferred immediately to Okinawa, then to Camp Pendleton, California in July of 1971. He was honorably discharged in July of 1972 as a Captain.
Robert Worley is now the Director of Economic Development of the City of Emory Development Corporation. For more insights into the politics and strategies of the long Vietnam War, he suggests “We Were Soldiers Once, and Young” written by Army Lt. Col. Hal Moore and also the movie, “We Were Soldiers.”
NOTE: The photos are from Google and are intended to be representative of Worley’s experiences.
Published in the Rains County Leader on November 11, 2021:
David and I, along with my cousin Penny, attended the 55th reunion of Mesquite High School class of 1965 last weekend. The reunion was planned for 2020, but COVID had other ideas. Some referred to our gathering as the 55th + 1, and some just went with the 56th.
The crowd wasn’t huge, especially considering the class was 300+. The very impromptu class picture showed about 26 classmates, and 10-15 guests accompanied them. The party took place in an event room behind Ozona’s Restaurant on Greenville Avenue. It was a nice sized room for the size of the group, though, leaving plenty of room to move around and visit without tripping over each other and adding more canes and walkers. Seriously, as a whole we were amazingly well-preserved considering we’re all around three-quarters of a century old.
Thanks to Facebook and other social media, many of us have stayed connected at least a little bit. Even so, it often took a glance at the senior picture on a nametag to connect the even more senior face with the name. But years were melted away by hugs and handshakes, and conversation was easy and lively as we shared memories and discussed children, grandchildren, retirement, and health problems. One common question was Where are you living now. I was surprised that everyone who asked me knew where Emory is. I guess our little town is better known than I thought.
Published in the Rains County Leader on June 15, 2021:
My father has been in Heaven for ten years, but I still miss him and think about him a lot. He’s especially on my mind in June when there is so much emphasis on fathers, so in honor of the special day we just celebrated, I want to share some of my favorite memories of the man I called Daddy.
I was Daddy’s girl, especially when I was little. When he went anywhere, I wanted to go with him. In the time before seat belts and child seats, he was my child restraint system. I remember standing beside him, tucked “safely” behind his right shoulder. As shocking as that may be to our safety conscious society, I felt completely safe and lovingly protected.
Another of my favorite memories is something that today’s children, strapped and restrained as they are, will never experience. From time to time, he would let me sit in his lap and drive the car. Of course, all I was doing was holding onto the steering wheel while he continued to be in complete control. Still, it was fun, it was a great confidence builder, and it was great practice for my later life as a Christian when I finally realized who is really in control.
I loved going to work with Daddy. The first job I remember was at a lumber yard, and when Mom would take his lunch to him, my brother Jim and I would go climb on the stacks of lumber. Later, he took a job at the Post Office, and he sometimes picked me up from school. While he cased his mail for the next day, I’d sit on a stool at a work table and practice my letters or put my fingers through the air holes in the crates of baby chicks and pet their fuzzy yellow feathers. I’m sure we broke lots of OSHA and Federal regulations, but being a real part of his life was worth being a bit of an outlaw.
A friend once told me that, when God made me, He forgot to put in the higher gears. I’m not sure exactly what she meant, but perhaps she was referring to my tendency to nod off in either a car or a church. In the early years, as soon as the sermon began, I put my head in Daddy’s lap and went to sleep. Sometimes, though, I stayed awake and sat in his lap. I amused myself, and totally ruined his ability to concentrate, by playing with his tie. I would begin at the bottom, roll it up to the knot, and release it. After it rolled out to its full length, I repeated the process. Maybe that’s why, for every gift-giving occasion, I gave him a tie.
When I was five, we moved into a house where I had my own bedroom. Until then, I had slept in a crib in my parents’ room or shared a bed with Jim in the living room. For a few months, I had occasional sleep-walking episodes during which I assume I was looking for companionship. Several times I woke up sitting on the side of Mom and Dad’s bed with Daddy sitting beside me, his eyes full of sleep and his hair standing on end, trying to stop the flow of my tears and reassuring me that everything was okay.
I also jotted down five memories of how Daddy provided support and practical aid later in my life when I was single again. Before I completely exceed my allotted word count, I’ll summarize:
He often hung curtains and pictures, installed ceiling fans, and finished many other things on my “I don’t have a honey to do” list.
In addition to caring for his own yard, he mowed, trimmed, and edged mine. He also removed and disposed of tomato worms that tried to take over my patio tomatoes.
Although he wasn’t in a position to offer financial assistance, he didn’t hesitate to co-sign a note when my old car bit the dust.
Daddy always had a key to my house, and more than once he got up out of bed and came over to unlock my door when I locked myself out.
Daddy showed me how a godly man should love his wife. His love for Mom was one of the defining realities of his life. He loved her as Paul told the Ephesians to love their wives and would have given up his life for her. He told her every day how beautiful she was and how much he loved her, and he never tired of kissing her or holding her hand.
There’s much more, but these are a few of the things that added up to a lifetime of love and care. Daddy led by example and loved by acts of service. Happy Father’s Day to the first man I ever loved.
Published in the Rains County Leader on March 9, 2021:
Computer work has been interesting at the Brendle house for the last week since we’ve been without WiFi. We had what we thought was an unlimited plan from a major carrier through a third party provider called Nomad. I don’t know where the wires got crossed, so to speak, but the major carrier apparently thought we were using more than our share of data and cut us off. Nomad has been very helpful, arranging for service through a new carrier and deleting charges for time without service, but it’s still taking a while to receive the new router and SIM card we need to get reconnected. In the meantime, we’ve gone to the church several times to pay bills, file taxes, and other necessities, but we can’t check email, engage with any social media, or watch TV at home – and we can’t do any online research.
I never realized how often I go to Google for a recipe, to answer a question, or to check out something for a writing project. On Saturday I wanted to spend some time working on my next novel, but I had questions about extradition, incarceration of a habitual felon and a parole violator who are awaiting indictment for an alleged kidnapping, and other things a simple country girl doesn’t know about from experience. I ended up with some general notes about the time sequence of a plot segment and a list of questions to ask my lawyer and law enforcement friends who are more familiar with such things than I am.
I also ran into some issues in choosing a subject for my column. My first choice was the hoopla over supposed racism in several Dr. Seuss books, but I didn’t know many details, and doing research on my phone when all I have is an LTE connection isn’t my idea of a good time. Then, I thought about doing some sort of retrospective, a kind of then and now look back at the last year. So I pulled up my file of columns from 2020 with some pretty interesting results.
Published in the Rains County Leader on February 2, 2021:
Those were some of the first words Robert Worley said to me after I walked into his office and introduced myself. Worley is the new Director of the Emory Development Corp., and I was there to interview him for the article you can read on the front page of this edition of the Leader. He went on to explain that, during his four years of high school, he worked as a printer’s devil for the Paducah Post in Paducah, Texas. This was during the days of hot metal typesetting before computers performed the task digitally, and one of his tasks was to feed pigs or ingots of lead into a vat of molten metal to keep the presses moving. Among his mementos of those years is one of the heavy metal bars along with memories of the feel of a drop of hot lead splashing onto his neck and the sound of a drop as it sizzled through the top of his shoe. Although he left the printing business after he graduated from high school, Worley has continued to find a friendly relationship with local newspapers to be invaluable in the economic development business.
Since that conversation, I’ve thought a lot about my own relationship with newspapers. My first memory of this print media is of spending Sunday mornings – after I was ready for church – lying on the floor of the living room in front of the radio with the “funny papers” spread out in front of me. I don’t know if it was a local D.J. or someone with a wider audience, but there was a man who read the comics every week.
The story of a lonely, innocent girl who gets tangled up in the sex trafficking trade in a small Texas town. It’s about her relationship with Eric, a slick suburban pimp; Jesse, a Christian tattoo artist and motorcycle rider; and Mrs. G, a compassionate but tough attorney and foster parent.