Sunday, December 11, 2022

Stir it up

I admit, there have been times when I have wailed, WHY did you have to die in December?!? But then, what other time would have been acceptable? There is no season when the loss of you would have been any easier. What I am really crying is WHY did you have to die and leave me alone!

There is nothing rational about this cri du cœur. No rational discussion of the cause of death matters in this case. This is a cry of pure loss, rage, and grief, aimed right at the heart of God in hopes of. . . what? I don't know.  I just know it rings out from the throats of bereaved lovers everywhere, in all languages, in all times, as the reality of our enormous loss begins to settle in. 

My reality was altered by your death in ways I am still discovering five years on.

FIVE YEARS!? How can it be five years, when the loss of you still feels so recent? 

And yet I have managed to cobble together a new reality that living without you made necessary. And most days, it works pretty well. 

This year the fifth anniversary of your death also is the third Sunday of Advent -- Stir Up Sunday, so called because the service always begins with the prayer, "Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us. . ." It made me smile, because you loved to stir things up, didn't you? And you loved Advent.

I love Advent in a new way now, because it gives me space to move into Christmas slowly, making it over the ordeal of my birthday without you, and then moving through the pain of this horrible anniversary.

This afternoon I hauled out all the boxes of the Nativities we collected throughout our marriage, many brought back from some wonderful trip together - or occasionally trips we each took on our own. Opening each box releases a legion of memories.

The Nativities come from trips to Israel, Italy, Sicily, England, France, Ireland, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda, as well as some from local artists here at home. 

Some of the Nativities were brought by each of us into the marriage (along with books and pieces of art. Lots of books, lots and lots of books). 

And some were gifts from beloved friends and family.  Wherever they come from, they are imbued with love and care and memories of blessed Christmases with you.

Moving into Christmas involves many conversations with you still. Anyone watching me would think, ok, here's a crazy person, but they would be wrong. I am not crazy, I am continuing a conversation that simply won't just end.

And day after day, I am comforted by the knowledge that your sweet sweet spirit isn't gone, that it shows up in funny, mysterious, weird, and loving ways, much as you did when you were here.

Because here's the most important thing I've learned in the last five years -- love doesn't end just because your physical presence did. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Thirty-one years, my love

 Happy anniversary, my love. Thirty-one years to celebrate, the last nearly five of which I've marked alone. 

We thought getting married on All Souls' Day was a great idea, because the space between the living and the dead is thin on this day. We figured all the beloved folks who had gone on ahead would be among our clouds of witnesses. 

Ironic indeed that the person I want most today is among those witnesses, probably working the room to make sure everyone gets greeted and loved on, just as you did at our wedding -- and everywhere else we went.

You have been much on my mind today, of course. I woke up thinking of you. The animals and I had to move out of the residence and into the farmhouse for three days while we awaited the pest control guy to come kill the thousands of yellow jackets who took up homesteading in the attic crawl space. After being stung twice I wasn't risking trying to sleep in the same building as those little devils.

The dogs were okay with the temporary move, because they are happy anywhere I am, but the cats were decidedly not. Sable refused to move off mother's couch and Danny pouted until he discovered the stairs and decided the entire farmhouse was a giant cat toy. At that point, he became a one-cat demolition derby, bouncing off walls and knocking stuff over right and left. 

We all slept upstairs in the space that used to be my office. I turned it into a bedroom when I moved all my office stuff over to the residence. It's good to know first hand that it's a comfortable space for any guests who arrive.

Still, I kept thinking how much fun it would have been with you there, because you could turn an event like being run out of our house by stinging insects into an adventure.  You would have cooked some great meal, we would have pretended we were on vacation, had too much wine to drink, made love, laughed, and read to each other in bed. 

Instead, I took an allergy pill and read until I got sleepy. Then woke up with no voice. Appropriate I guess, because since you died, I am unable to sing. I try, but songs just stick in my throat. So today, as I miss you madly, it seems right that I have no voice at all. Because there are no words I need to say. I said them all to you when you were still here -- told you of my deep abiding love for you, listed all the things about you that tickled me and drove me crazy, all the things you taught me and all the things we learned together, all the things I admired about you and all the ways you made the world so much better because you were in it. 

I didn't know then how huge a presence an absence can be.  

I miss you so much.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Remembering the Paris Coffee Shop

 On Friday, July 25, 1984, I wrote a column entitled "One of Fort Worth's small treasures reopens."

It came to mind as I read stories of the reopening a newly re-done Paris Coffee Shop, the owners of which hope to carry on the legacy of this home town treasure. I have not visited the new Paris yet. But I do remember the old one.


Friday, July 25, 1984

Well, all is right in at least one little part of the world.

The Paris Coffee Shop on Magnolia is open for business this morning, after being closed all week to repair the damage caused by a fire Saturday night.

"The firemen did a great job," said owner Mike smith, adding that there was almost no water damage. 

Even through Smith has business interruption insurance, he had been working at top speed to repair the damages so the coffee shop could reopen.

Why the rush? After all, his insurance would make up the money he would lose while the business was closed for repairs. He could have proceeded at a more leisurely pace. 

Smith hurried because he has a good understanding of what his customers expect of him. They expect him, and his place, to be there.

After all, the Paris Coffee Shop has been there for many of those customers since Smith's father, Gregory, opened it in 1930. Mike Smith has been running it for 21 years.

When it's closed, its absence makes a major hole in customers' lives. The Paris is part of the daily or weekly routine for hundreds of people. The inexpensive but good food, the friendly service and relaxed ambience have all helped make the Paris a Fort Worth fixture. 

But the biggest reason is the customers themselves. They are a motley crew, ranging from construction workers to hospital district employees to businesswomen and men to parents with little babies to retired couples to an occasional street person. 

They come there for more than food. They come to make deals, to explore ideas with friends, to have meetings, to relax on coffee breaks, to meet people, to make decisions, to write letters, to read newspapers, to work puzzles, to plan little personal revolutions, and to warm their hands and hearts overs a cup of coffee.

They come in groups and they come alone. Some come assuming they'll see someone they know, while others come in hopes that they'll feel slightly less lonely.

They come in business suits, in jeans and T-shirts, in jogging shorts and in formal dresses. They even come in costume -- and not always just at Halloween. 

This diversity makes for a colorful crowd and interesting mixes of people. It creates an air of friendly equality and unquestioning acceptance. At the Paris, people are assumed to be good unless they prove otherwise. 

In short, the Paris is very much like the city it serves. This coffee shop could, on any average day, serve as a metaphor for Fort Worth. That's why it's a place city leaders should visit often, especially when they start getting ideas about Fort Worth needing an "urban, sophisticated image" in its leaders. 

The Paris isn't the only place like this, of course. There are other such places in Fort Worth, and certainly in Arlington and the Mid-Cities. 

Such places are local treasures. Some are coffee shops and restaurants. Others are small stores or shops. Still others are public places, such as libraries or post offices or parks. 

They can be anywhere, in any structure, in any space. What sets them apart is that they have been made special by the people who congregate there. 

Such places cannot be built. They just sort of grow, getting rubbed into being by the people who use them, who have nudged and prodded and poked at them over the years until they fit, like a comfortable old shoe.

Sometimes the process is aided by a proprietor who is smart enough to nurture the process, and sometimes it happens in spite of the owner. 

it is important that city officials, business owners, and other community leaders be sensitive to the existence of such places. They should be vigilant about changes that might destroy them and be willing to think creatively about ways to preserve them. 

A case in point is the old Burnett Park. The refurbished park is lovely, but certainly it is not the treasure the old park was, and, I suspect, it never will be. I choose to believe that city officials simply did not understand how special the old park was in the hearts of the people. If they had, they could never have treated its refurbishing as they did, as simply another routine agenda item. They never would have turned it refurbishing over to some out-of-town design group who had no hope of understanding how the people felt about that park. 

The Tandy Foundation got what its generous gift paid for -- an elegant entrance plaza into its office building. But the city lost one of its people-created treasures. 

A city can't afford to lose too many of those. They are what make a city a home, instead of a place to just live in for a while.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Happy 85th, my love

 Saturday, April 23, was Gayland's birthday. He would have been 85. 

He's been gone nearly five years. How can that be? How have I managed to navigate these long months alone? 

I still miss him every minute of every day.

I still have conversations with him. many beginning, "What were you thinking. . .?" because, well, Gayland.

Many of those conversations happened when I managed to clean out a storage unit filled with boxes from his move back to Fort Worth from Mexico. I longed for his presence so he could tell me the story of some of what I found. 

LOTS of books, framed art work, office files, kitchen supplies, letters and cards, ash trays -- anyone have ash trays any more? He had stopped smoking by the time we met for the second time -- the first was when I interviewed him when he was the "controversial" Canterbury chaplain at TCU.

Reading the letters and cards were like peeking over his shoulder into his ministry.  Here's a tiny sampling:

"Thank you, Fr. Pool, for you kindness to our family when Nana died."

"Fr. Pool, I would never have survived the loss of my son without your help and counsel."

"I'm writing to tell you I got into college. Thank you for helping me make it through high school. I think I'd be dead by now if you hadn't been around to listen and offer advice."

"Fr. Pool,  I am getting MARRIED!!!!!!! And I want you to do the wedding. You baptized me, got me confirmed, and I can't imagine being married by anyone else."

"Fr. Pool, I wanted to let you know we got moved into the new house and are settled. Thank you again for your help with that terrible landlord. What a nightmare!"

"Dear Fr. Pool, Please let us know if you are moving back to Fort Worth any time soon.  You are missed."

Dear Gayland, Thanks for your hospitality in Mexico. It was a great visit and I believe I made real progress with my Spanish. Your encouragement gave me the confidence to make the trip -- my first out of the United States."

Dear Rev. Pool, You don't know me, but you know my son, ______. You helped him more than once when he got into trouble. Well, he got his act together. He's now attending medical school -- can you believe it? As one very relieved mother, I wanted to let you know and to thank you. You helped make this possible."

Every one of this could be the jumping off point for a novel. All reveal his very real love of people and his willingness to walk with them through good times and bad.

I longed for his comfort and counsel when my brother Dan died. Gayland understood grief and loss better than most, having lost his brother and young nephew in a car accident, and then months later, his mother to cancer, all while he was at Canterbury.

So I hope you had a big party up there, with all the people you loved who preceded you there. 

You are much missed here, my love. Very much missed.

Saturday, April 02, 2022

“All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.”

A eulogy for my brother Dan

Dan Sherrod is the oldest of four children, a fact the rest of us children never let him forget. 

Dan was the “good” child among us. Peter and I did our best to live up to the reputation of middle children, and Mike was, of course, the baby - with all that entails for good or ill. 

As the only girl, I was an anomaly in the house, and did my tom boy best to grab as much of the male privilege of the household as I could. But my mom was determined to turn me into a girl. I’m thinking particularly of the Christmas Dan and Pete got Roy Rogers holster sets and I got a Madam Alexander doll. Now, I ask you. . . 

But as I got older, I realized that it wasn’t easy being a son of Alan Sherrod, physician, racing car driver, story-teller -- a man who was quite happily idolized by an entire community, indeed, a man who was a legend in his own mind.

Still, Dan managed to take the best parts of Alan’s legacy and make them even better -- he centered his life on love of his cherished wife and his family. He loved laughter. He loved his Church. He loved racing -- but more, he loved the racing community -- and it loved him back. 

I asked Peter and Mike to share their favorite stories of Dan. Here are two from Peter: 

One evening several of us were gathered in Dan's dorm room at St. Edward's [High School in Austin]. We were lustily singing a bawdy song when suddenly, Brother Aloysius burst through the door in a state of high dudgeon. Good Catholic boys apparently don't sing bawdy songs at Catholic boarding school. He ordered all of us down to the headmaster's office for summary judgment. As we all left, heads hanging, he slammed the door behind us and marched us ahead. But he had failed to notice young Dan who happened to be standing behind the door when the good brother entered. Dan escaped without consequence. 

So. Dan was lucky. 

Here's Pete's second story:  Dan and I were hanging out with our Illinois cousins during a break from St. Louis U. We were discussing the movie The Exorcist and marveling at the ability of the possessed girl to expectorate large volumes of green ejecta that seemed to fly around the room until landing on one or another of the exorcists in attendance. What nicknames, we wondered, would we apply to a person of such oral abundance and accuracy? Of the several candidates brought up by the cousins, Dan's suggestions put us all on the floor: Y. A. Spittle, or maybe Rasputum. You had to be there. 

Dan was funny. 

Mike’s story comes from the sports car part of Dan’s world: 
When I was about 13 there was a big rally planned for the Sports Car Club of America from Odessa, Texas to Ruidoso, New Mexico – a long and complicated rally that required a driver and a navigator. Rallies are timed events where you have a list of instructions you have to follow and with each instruction you are to drive at a certain speed for a specified period of time. The team that finishes with the time closest to the official timekeeper wins the rally. 

I was on the periphery of the drivers and navigators watching who was teaming up with whom. I was 13, overweight, wore big black frame glasses, had a space between my two front teeth and a fantastically unmanageable cowlick on the back of my head. Yes, all of that. My self-esteem was not at its apogee. 

It was then my big brother Dan, 9 years older than me, picked me to be his navigator. I was terrified, overjoyed, immediately had to pee, couldn’t wait to get in the car, and didn’t want to do it. What if I failed? How could my big brother put any confidence in ME? 

My anxiety level was at about 50 on a scale of 10. Dan leaned over and he said, “You know how to do this. You’ve seen me, mom, Pete or Katie, do this a thousand times for Dad. Don’t worry about it, have fun and do the best you can. We’re going to go fast, see some beautiful countryside, and have a party with our friends at the end.” Then he started the car and we got in line to be flagged on our way by the official timer. 

We did stop for lunch – that was one of the instructions – but it was timed as well. Dan ordered a hamburger and I ordered 3 BLT’s with chips – the meal I had always wanted to order but knew I would never get. He didn’t say no, he only raised that one eyebrow and said, “Hungry, are we?” 

It was a long day. When we drove up to the final check-in with the official timer, I was exhausted. The party was already started, as everyone waited for the last of the cars to arrive. 

Finally all the cars were checked-in and the results tabulated. My dread returned. What if we were last place, so last place they wouldn’t even mention our names? They started with honorable mentions – and didn’t mention our names. Then they did the joke awards – and didn’t mention our names. Then they said we’re going to announce the winners. Well, that was it, we certainly weren’t winners, but we hadn’t even made the joke awards. I was devastated and shamed and ready to run away. 

Then I heard, “And in 3rd Place, Dan Sherrod, Driver and Mike Sherrod, Navigator.”

Everyone cheered. I think. I don’t really remember anything except Dan grabbing my hand and pushing it up into the air with his own in astounded joy. He let me go up to the Rally Officials Awards Table and get the trophy. 

That rally came up in our last conversation and I told him how scared I had been, but I also told him how much that long ago rally and his gesture of brotherly generosity meant to me.

Dan was generous 

My Dan story is one I don’t actually remember. I was told about it by our mother. When I was about two, Dan and Pete put me in a box in the middle of the street in front of our house. They wanted to see if cars would stop. Lucky for me, they did. 

Dan was curious. 

I do remember that Dan was the handsome big brother that all my friends had crushes on. He was made even more attractive by being away at school so much of the time. The infrequent sightings coupled with his cool car made him almost irresistible to teenaged girls. They thought he was mysterious. I, on the other hand, found all this adulation of my annoying brother nauseating. 

And annoying he could be. I remember spending hours getting ready for a date, only to walk out to the family room in all my 17-year-old splendor to have Dan say, “Aren’t you going to get ready?” 

But then he would relent and tell me I looked nice. 

So let’s sum up. Luck, humor, generosity, curiosity, and kindness -- that was Dan. 

As I was wondering how to wrap all this up, I picked up Gayland’s well-used Book of Common Prayer. Those of you who knew Gayland will not be surprised to hear that it is jammed with notes scribbled on little pieces of paper -- notes on people in the hospital, or people needing prayers, or a special wedding blessing. 

This time, a piece of paper slipped out as I picked it up. And there, in Gayland’s handwriting, is the line from a hymn that pretty much sums all this up. Because this is Dan too: 

 “All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.” 

 We do, Dan. We do.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Losing my big brother

 Daniel Alan Sherrod was born June 24, 1943, to Judy and Alan Sherrod in Robinson, Il.

He died before dawn on Saturday, March 19, 2022, at his home in Richardson, TX. He was 78 years old. He is mourned by his wife Patricia, and his children. Christopher, Julianne, Gina, and Margaret, and by his grandchildren, Virginia, Sam, Natalie, and Calliope Rose, by nieces and nephews and their children, and by countless friends in the Roman Catholic Church and in the Sports Car Club of America.

And he is mourned by his siblings. He was the oldest of four children: Dan, Peter, Kate, and Mike. 

Here are Pete, me, and Dan -- Mike wouldn't be born for three more years. This is how I looked when Dan and Pete put me in a box in the middle of the street to see if cars would stop. Both of them were lucky to be alive when our mother found out about that stunt. I mean -- look at those grins. Can't you just SEE the mischief?

But my mom was enchanted with her first born, and no wonder. He was a chubby cheeked cutie pie. 

Peter was born 18 months later and I came along two years after that. Our parents had moved to Texas, to the tiny town of Iraan, where our father was the only physician for three counties, and our mom the only nurse. 

We lived in this minuscule house in Iraan, although we didn't know it was so tiny until we went back for a visit many years later. How six people fit into that house remains an unanswered question. 

My parents created a full rich life in that little town, with my father racing a Jaguar in Sports Car Club of America road races, and my mom starting a town library and leading Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops in addition to managing our father's medical practice. They loved having friends over to eat and drink and talk -- and they passed this love along to their children. 

So no wonder Dan's favorite thing was to gather the people he loved around a table laden with food and drink, and talk. Sherrods love to talk.

He loved to read, and when we lived in Iraan, he would beat us all to the Post Office so he  could get Life and Look Magazines and the Saturday Evening Post. Then he would sit on two of them while he read the third. Only when he was finished with one could the rest of us kids get a chance at it. 

He and Pete got Roy Rogers double holster sets for Christmas one year, and I got a Madam Alexander doll. Boy, was I mad!

And then one Christmas the boys got English racing bikes -- beyond cool because they had gears (!) and skinny narrow tires. I was so jealous. My girl bike simply couldn't keep up.

Dan loved a party.

Dan and Gayland shared that hospitality gene, so they got along really well, doing their best to do justice to all of Patty's amazing cooking.

He also loved puns, a vice my entire family shares, and his could be truly awful, causing much loud groaning -- while we all thought furiously of ways we might top him.

He also loved to play Charades when we all got together, but we never let him and Patty be on the same team. There was just too much fire power in that duo.

Like our Dad, Dan raced fast cars. He and my then-husband-and-still-friend Glenn Brown, formed Brown Sherrod Racing, which we -- of course --shortened to BS Racing. Peter was named the Coarse Physician. We thought we were hysterically funny. We all worked as part of the Pit Crew. Number 23 had been our dad's racing number, so we kept that. This was the Lotus Formula Ford we raced, often at Green Valley Raceway.

Glenn was the Chief Mechanic. Our little girl, Daniella, was the team mascot. Before every race, she would toddle up to car and proclaim, "Race, Dan! Race!"

Dan kept his love of fast beautiful cars his entire life. He served in many national leadership roles in the Sports Car Clubs of America, traveling to races all over the country. We all knew that Patty seriously loved him when, after three days of honeymoon at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado, they joined up with the rest of us at Fort Sumner, New Mexico for a race. 

All of us were thrilled when our dad bought his long-dreamed-of Ferrari, but none as much as Dan.  And yes, driving it was like no other driving experience, but Dan and Daddy were truly smitten.

Dan helped organize the first Dallas Grand Prix in the mid-1980s, a huge task and a labor of love.

As you can see from the photos, Dan loved to laugh. Well, so do all of us, but Dan's eyes would twinkle and that hearty laugh would erupt and no matter how grumpy you might be, you had to smile. 

He and Peter were incorrigible together, and were ridiculously proud of themselves when they made us all laugh. 

Do you know what a Shaggy Dog story is? 

"In its original sense, a shaggy dog story or yarn is an extremely long-winded story characterized by extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents and terminated by an anticlimax.

"A lengthy shaggy dog story derives its humor from the fact that the joke-teller held the attention of the listeners for a long time (such jokes can take five minutes or more to tell) for no reason at all, as the end resolution is essentially meaningless."

Well, Alan Sherrod had mastered this art, and his sons did their best to match him, with little success. They never gave up though.

Patty was Dan's match, however, and robust discussions were part of what they enjoyed about each other.

They were both teachers before Dan went into the insurance business, and they both knew how to debate. 

Dan was a devout Roman Catholic, and so it was especially meaningful for him and Patty to visit the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Iraan.  My parents had given the climic they built in Iraan to the Catholic Church and we all made a pilgrimage to see it.

We were all amazed at how well the clinic worked as a church, with the big waiting room as the worship space, examining rooms becoming offices and classrooms, and the lab becoming a small kitchen.

I am sure by now you have noticed a theme running through this -- family. 

Dan's family meant everything to him. 

At their 50th Wedding Anniversary!

Here they all are, trying to get organized to take a photo in 2018. And below is a photo from that same day, with Dan telling some story to his daughter Julianne and Patty preparing mimosas for us all. 

And here we all are at Julianne and Steve's wedding, which was held in our Chapel Garden, Gayland officiating, with a lovely reception afterward. Dan was so happy that day. 

That's how I will always see Dan, all laughter and love. How we will miss him.

It's hard to believe all that vitality isn't still with us, so I won't be surprised if evidence of Dan's presence shows up every now and then. A spirit that bright won't just disappear.

Love you, Dan. Miss you.