Thursday, July 20, 2017

Part II: names, nicknames, more names

      The name game continues, second day ...
      The response on the nicknames blog was a good one, and so we go on. Because overnight dozens more came to mind, and also there are two other "name" categories.
      How about people whose first names are just initials (usually, but not always, abbreviations for their full names)? How about those two-tone first names?
      Stay tuned.
      First, back to nicknames. My friend Ross Montelbano, who wrote "... that was amazing. That might be my favorite article you've written. If I might add ..."
      Ross' list (I added first names and comments):
      John "Blue Moon" Odom; Jim "Mudcat" Grant; Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown; "Spaceman" Bill Lee
      "The Grey Ghost" (the character Gavin Grey, played by Dennis Quaid in the movie Everybody's All-American, adapted from a novel written by the late, great Frank Deford)
      "Bucketfoot" Al Simmons (Baseball Hall of Famer who once played for Shreveport)
      Old Aches and Pain" Luke Appling; Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd; "Dr. Strangleglove" Dick Stuart; "Sweet Swinging" Billy Williams; "The Schnoze" Ernie Lombardi; "Smokey Joe" Wood; "The Walking Man" Eddie Yost
      "Scrap Iron" Clint Courtney (the majors' first bespectacled catcher from Hall Summit, La., 40 miles from Shreveport) and Phil Garner (from Knoxville, Tenn.)
      Archibald "Moonlight" Graham (played in one major-league game, then became a doctor and was portrayed in the movie Field of Dreams by Burt Lancaster)
      Hazen "Kiki" Cuyler; Leon "Goose" Goslin; Lynwood "Schoolboy" Rowe; "The Reading Rifle" Carl Furillo; "Wild Thing" Mitch Williams
      "[Warren] Spahn and [Johnny] Sain and Pray for Rain"

      "Sweet Lou" Piniella and "Sweet Lou" Dunbar (basketball, from Minden, La., and the Harlem Globetrotters)
      "The Flying Scotsman" Bobby Thomson (he hit "The Shot Heard 'Round the World)
      "Nails" Lenny Dykstra; "Wahoo Sam" Crawford; "Sudden Sam" McDowell; "The Yankee Killer" Frank Lary; John "Tito" Francona; Terry "Tito" Francona (son of the father); "The Big Donkey" Adam Dunn
      Laurence "Dutch" Rennert (National League umpire known for his exaggerated strike calls, he umpired in the Southern Association during Shreveport's time in that league, 1959-61)
      "The Big Cat" -- baseball's Andres Galarraga, football's Rayfield Wright (Cowboys' Hall of Fame offensive tackle) and Ernie Ladd (from Grambling State)  
      Adding to the list (and confessing that it took a little research for some -- but not all) ...
      Butch: The late Brian Smart (also known as "Maxwell").
      Buddy: Early 1960s Fair Park High baseball teammates Buddy Nelson and Buddy Chester. Veteran sports editor/columnist/author/sports talk show host Buddy Martin, now based in Ocala, Fla.
      Reviving two Shreveport umpire/referee nicknames from a recent blog: Clyde Oliver "T-Willie" Moore and Lloyd "Sarge" Boyce.
A young Bert Blyleven (born in Holland):
"Be Home by Eleven"
      Louisiana Tech/minor-league baseball announcer of 4,000-plus games: "Freeway" Dave Nitz.
      Baseball: "Mick The Quick" Mickey Rivers, Bert "Be Home by Eleven" Blyleven (thank you, Chris Berman), "The Gambler" Kenny Rogers, Mark "The Bird" Fidrych, Steve "Bye-Bye" Balboni, "Crime Dog" Fred McGriff, "The Penguin" Ron Cey, "Joey Bats" Jose Bautista.
      Here is a special one: Harry "Stinky" Davis. He was the Detroit Tigers' first baseman in 1935 when he lost the job to Hank Greenberg (future Hall of Famer). Except for his baseball days, Harry Davis lived his whole life in Shreveport.
      Co-workers at newspapers: Bill "Bull" Rutkin, "Tolo" Tobias Xavier Lopez, R.C. "Cotton" McCoy, the nitpicker "Laz" Allan Lazarus.
      Coaches, LSU: "Biff" Jones, Gaynell "Gus" Tinsley, "Pepsodent Paul" Dietzel, "Cholly Mac" Charlie McClendon,  tragic "Bo" Rein, "Curley" Hallman, "Les-tacles" Les Miles, "Coach O" Ed Orgeron, "Press" Maravich, "Daddy" Dale Brown, "Skip" Bertman.
Pistol Pete Maravich: The PMAC honors his legend
        How could I have forgotten one great basketball name: "Pistol Pete" Maravich?
         Another one, a star in basketball and baseball at Lake Charles High and the University of Kentucky, and a two-sport pro athlete: Charles "Cotton" Nash.
         Personal basketball friends: Mike "Opie" McConathy, Malcolm "Mouse" Smith. Tech basketball trips roommate/legend: Lynn "Ikey" Sanderson.
         Football coaches of note: Paul "Bear" Bryant, Ralph "Shug" Jordan, "JoPa" Joe Paterno, Hugh "Duffy" Daugherty, Nick Satan, Steve Superior ("The Head Ball Coach"), John James "Jimbo" Fisher, William "Dabo" Sweeney. The man the late Frank Deford made famous in Sports Illustrated: Robert "Bull" "Cyclone" Sullivan of East Mississippi JC.
        North Louisiana football coaches: Shreveport's "Old Lou" Lowell Morrison and Roy "Bull" Wilson. Northwestern State's Harry "Rags" Turpin. Oil City's Earl "Blue Boy" Nolan. Louisiana Tech's Milton "Mickey" Slaughter.
        Ruston, La., High School gave us L.J. "Hoss" Garrett and Jimmy "Chick" Childress. In basketball, it was Denmon "Lefty" Garner. In Jacksonville, Fla., Charles "Corky" Rogers is the alltime winningest football coach.
        Another "Hoss" was Jim Brock, former Cotton Bowl exec. The longtime Cotton Bowl chairman was Field Scovell, but Field was his given name.
        An old friend from Sunset Acres, a high school football/track All-State star: Ross "The Hoss" Oglesby.
        Ross was a running back. So, too, a decade earlier were consecutive Heisman Trophy winners -- Alan "The Horse" Ameche and Howard "Hopalong" Cassady.
        Football stadium names: "Death Valley" (LSU and Clemson), "The Big House" (Michigan), "The Swamp" (Florida), "The Granddaddy of Them All" (Rose Bowl). (There are dozen others.)
        A couple of NFL-related names: "Dirty Birds" and "Cheeseheads." A quarterback: "The Gunslinger" Brett Favre. The best-known placekicker of the 1950s: Lou "The Toe" Groza.
        My favorite Shreveport Sports player (and 10-year major leaguer): "Baby Lou" Klimchock. (He was 19 when he starred for the Sports in 1959.)
         Now, how about those initial names. Here are some people I've known and some I've seen (starting with Shreveport connections, branching out):

          A.L. Williams, W.B. Calvert, C.O. Brocato, J.D. Cox, D.C. Machen, J.L. Wilson, J.B. Harville (my junior high, Oak Terrace, was renamed in his honor), V.T. Smith, J.W. Slack, C.J. Lottinger, T.K. Henry (but call him Tommy), H.L. Prather Sr., J.D. Garrett, J.D. Barnett, J.R. Richard, J.R. Ewing, T.R. Sullivan, J.D. Drew, J.D. Martinez, R.C. Slocum, R.B. Summitt, U.L. Washington, H.O. West.  
        Two-tone names (it's probably, mostly, a Southern thing):
        John James Marshall, Jon Pat Stephenson, Joe Raymond Peace, Billy Don Maples, Bobby Ray McHalffey, Billy Don McHalffey, Billy Ray Stokes, John Andrew Prime, Bob Ray Sanders, Billy Rex Lockwood, Jimmy Joe Hildebrand, Billy Bob Thornton.
         I'm out of names for this week.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What's in a (nick)name? Plenty!

     This week I am on a nickname kick.
     Stop and think about it -- nicknames are everywhere, all around us. They are with us every day. And if you have nothing to do -- obviously the case here -- you write a blog about them.
     What's your favorite nickname?
     Mine comes from the world of sports, naturally ... but not the real world. Fake news? Ha. How about a fake sport? Professional wrestling. Almost all the names were fake, nicknames.
Scandor Akbar: One of wrestling's great
villains, to us, he was "Snackbar."
     So many of us loved watching it in our younger years. Dad always loved it; I never could figure out why exactly.
     Anyway, my favorite character was Scandor Akbar. If you watched wrestling from the mid-1960s through 2000, he was known world-wide, but especially around here in North Texas and North Louisiana.
     Had to look this up: His real name was Jimmy Saied Wehba. At the suggestion of the famed Fritz Von Erich, he changed it in 1966 to Scandor Akbar. 
      The promoters and announcers billed him as being from Lebanon (his father actually was) or Syria or Saudi Arabia ... whatever.
     He was from Texas (as was his mother). Born, raised, and lived in Garland his last 40 years.
     He had a great act; he was a super villain -- as a wrestler and then as a manager. The "General" of Devastation, Inc., he messed with opponents, refs, fans. We loved him nevertheless.
      In Shreveport, the wrestling show would be taped at the studio at KTBS-TV, Channel 3, on Kings Highway. A half dozen times -- I am not making this up -- we would see Scandor and a couple of his buddies down the street at Murrell's Grill. It was fun talking to them. They were ... normal.
     His obit story and his Wikipedia page say that Scandor's favorite move was the "camel clutch." No way. Disagree.
     When he reached in his trunks and then struck out at his opponent ... he burned him with fire.
      That move was Scandor Akbar (which stood for "Alexander The Great"). Which -- finally -- brings me to the favorite nickname which I, or some of my friends, created for him. 
      To us, he was simply, "Snackbar."
      Our 43rd President was a nickname guy, had one for so many people. The most famous: "Way to go, Brownie." Yeah, right.
      My wife reminds me that I'm a nickname guy. Every day.
      Let's start with her. Bea is really her nickname (I'm one of the few who calls her Beatrice). But usually I call her "Honey." (OK, I do call her other things, but let's keep this proper.)
      She confesses that in school she was "Bouffant" because of her poofed-up 1960s hair.
      Staying at home and in the family: Our son Jason when he was little was "Jay-Jay," then as a kid, his mother stenciled his name on some clothes for camp: JKey. So he became "Jakey" or "Jake" to me. Now I usually call him "Jay."
      Our daughter Rachel, for me, is "Rach" or "Rachy." Granddaughter Josie (short for Josephine) I often call "Jos." Grandson Kaden is "Kades." So far, Jacob is Jacob and Eli is Eli.
       Our animals: Long ago we had Snowball, who was "Snowy." Later we had Kitty, who I called "Kiki" and our white collie Lightning, who was "Lighty." Now we have two cats, Ditto is "Ditty" "Ditz," "Ditzo" or "Ditmore" and Grayson is "Grace" or "Gracy."
      So many nicknames are simply abbreviations for proper names -- Jim/Jimmy for James, Joe for Joseph, Rick/Ricky for Richard, Ted for Theodore, Gerry for Gerald or Geraldine, Chuck for Charles, Bob/Bobby for Robert, Jack for John (explain that one), Peg for Peggy, Dot for Dorothy, Lou for Louise, Candy for Candice, etc. (You get the idea.)
      Then there are Buddy, Bud, Buster, Bubba,  Butch, Sonny.        
      Buddy: Orville Kince (O.K.) Davis, sportswriting legend; Charles E. Roemer Jr., Louisiana governor/politician; B.L. Shaw (Bea's cousin from their hometown, Jamestown; former Byrd High principal and state legislator).
      Bud: Albert A. Dean, basketball player/coach and principal; Norris Alexander, football kicker/end. Both La. Tech guys. Current major-league pitcher David Norris.     
      Buster: (Cecil) Herren, 1960s running back at Woodlawn and Louisiana Tech; at Tech, we also had Buster Erwin; Clyde A. Carlisle, well-known basketball coach in North Louisiana and East/Central Texas; ESPN baseball writer/analyst Robert Olney; the terrific current San Francisco Giants catcher Gerald Posey.

      (Most significantly, Bea's brother, the late Howard C. Shaw Jr., who was "Buster" to his original family.)
      Butch: Three in La. Tech football in the 1960s -- offensive tackle Wayne Williams (from Minden, later coach/principal/superintendent in Webster Parish); kick returner-safety Butch Daniel (Cotton Valley); punter-would be QB Butch Troegel (Shreveport-Fair Park). Thomas Aswell, reporter/writer from Ruston now focused on politics in Baton Rouge. Butch Muir, from West Monroe, longtime sports editor in Baton Rouge.
      We also knew Butch Troquille and Jerry "Butch" Summerlin, who teamed up with Maurice "Punk" Jackson in junior high football. My friend Casey was "Butch" to his family early on, but not to the outside world. 
      Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. (They had real names -- they're referenced in the movie -- but who cares?)
      Bubba: The late Mr. J.W. Cook, Woodlawn High assistant principal/then principal; James Bruning Jr., son of the onetime Natchitoches High coach. A couple more: Simon and Alexander, sons of friends. And ... the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (right, Forrest?).
      Sonny: Salvatore Bono (he teamed with Cher and later got into politics); the oldest Corleone brother, shot to hell in The Godfather; Van Cliburn's parents called him "Sonny" even long after he was a kid phenom at the piano. 
      III, the third in a family: Henry Lee "Trey" Prather, Joe C. "Trey" Ferguson, our nephew Leonard "Tré" Woodard.
      One of the best football players, then a longtime coach in North Louisiana: Ronnie "Spot" Alexander. A big (for then) defensive end at La. Tech: Jerry "Big 'Un" Wilson.  
      At Tech, there was an unforgettable coach: Pat Patterson. Everyone knew him as "Gravy."
      One of our coaches in high school called the scrubs and sophomores "rinky dinks" and he termed one chunky would-be player as "Jelly Belly."
      In school, we had two girls named "Cookie" (one whose proper name is Miralee). We had one nicknamed  "Beaver" (she knows who she is.)
      Baseball (see below): Cookie Lavagetto, Cookie Rojas.
      The best running back at Shreveport's Byrd High in 1963-64 was John Johnson. Everyone knows him still as "Jogger." He was not jogging when he ran over other team's players, including Woodlawn's.
      A really good basketball point guard at Bossier High my senior year was Paul "Lobo" Watson.
      Presidents: "The Father of Our Country," "The Great Emancipator," Bully Pulpit, FDR, HST, Ike, JKF, LBJ, Tricky Dick, "Bubba" Clinton. And GCA (Grover Cleveland Alexander ... oh, wait, that was baseball).
      Also in politics: Nixon's chief protectors/conspirators: H.R. "Bob" Haldeman and John Ehrlichman were known as "The Berlin Wall" or German attack dogs.
       The current President, of course, loves giving political opponents (among others) nicknames. I'm not going there.
       Sportswriters: Two of the most famous ones -- Walter "Red" Smith and William Forrest "Blackie" Sherrod.
       (Which brings to mind: So many people are nicknamed "Red." In North Louisiana alone, there's Jimmy Leach, Alton Franklin, Rudolph Smith. In basketball from the past, Arnold Auerbach, William Holtzman, Ephraim Rocha.)
       Sportswriters I've known: Jerry Byrd Sr. in college was "Tweety Byrd," later "The Head That Ate Shreveport" and "The Man, The Legend." Also at the Shreveport Journal, Rick Woodson was Goodson. Wally "Under The" Rugg. Jimmy Bullock was "Haynio." 
       Later at the Journal, John James Marshall -- naturally -- was JJ. Ed Cassiere was "EOE" (expert on everything) and "Eck." Teddy Allen was "sportswriter from Monroe" (inside joke, thanks to Karl Malone. He had a nickname, too.)
       At The Shreveport Times, sports editor Bill McIntyre was "The Fearless Leader," given to him by Jim McLain ("Jim Mac"). Gerry Robichaux was/is "Roby." Tommy Lopez was "The Black Cloud" (he was at times a bad-luck guy). Kent Heitholt was "Heity." 
       In other places ... in Honolulu, two Ferds (short for Ferdinand) -- and one of them was nicknamed "Spud." In Jacksonville, Smitter, Frenny, Bri and my inside-jokes buddy, KG. In Knoxville, Gatsey and Malby. In Fort Worth, Brownie, Vinny, Scooter and Frenchy.       
      One of my favorite sports scribes: In Baton Rouge, longtime high school and LSU: Ted Castillo, "The Prep Talker."
      Let's turn to sports ...
      Basketball: First, our North Louisiana superstars: Robert "Chief" Parish, who was "Slim" to some of his friends in high school, and Karl Malone, "The Mailman" who delivered.
      And some of the greats: Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain, Jerry West "Mr. Clutch" and "Zeke From Cabin Creek," "The Big O" (Oscar Robertson), John "Hondo" Havlicek, Earvin "Magic" Johnson and "The Hick From French Lick" (Larry Bird), "Dr. J" (Julius Erving), Walt "Clyde" Frazier, "The Big Fundamental" (Tim Duncan), "Black Mamba" (Kobe Bryant).
      Also, Chet "The Jet" Walker, "Fall Back Baby" Dick Barnett, Jim "Bad News" Barnes, Melo (Carmelo Anthony).
      My favorite: "The Round Mound of Rebound," the crazy Charles Barkley.
      Big guys: "Twin Towers" (Akeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, Houston Rockets, early 1980s). Little guys: Nate "Tiny" Archibald, Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues, Jose Juan Barea ("JJ" of our Dallas Mavericks). "Spud" Webb.
      Right now, you have the "Splash Brothers" and "Lob City." There's always "The Dream Team." "Fabulous Five" (Kentucky late 1940s) and "Fab Five" (Michigan early 1990s). Detroit Pistons' "Bad Boys" and the LA Lakers' "Showtime). The best: Phi Slama Jama (U. of Houston, 1980s).  
      Dirk. Just Dirk. Doesn't need a special nickname.
      The greatest coach of all: "The Wizard of Westwood" (John Wooden). Today's coaches: Pop, Coach K, Doc. 
      Football: Start with quarterbacks. Terry Bradshaw, in college at La. Tech, became "The Blond Bomber" or "The Rifleman." (What we learned a couple of years ago is that Bobby Layne years before had been "The Blond Bomber" at the University of Texas.)
       Joe Ferguson, who many from our area believe is the best high school QB they've seen, was "The White Knight." Bert Jones was "The Ruston Rifle."
       "Broadway Joe" Namath. Kenny "Snake" Stabler. Johnny U. Billy Kilmer, to us, was "Beetface."
       The Cowboys: "Dandy Don" Meredith, Roger "The Dodger" Staubach, and bless his heart, Danny White "The Master of Disaster." Troy Aikman, RB Emmitt Smith and WR Michael "The Playmaker" Irvin, were "The Triplets.") Ed "Too Tall" Jones. Cliff "Crash" Harris. Bob "Mr. Cowboy" Lilly.
      "The Man in the Hat" -- Tom Landry. Coach of "America's Team" and the "Doomsday Defense."
      Pittsburgh's "Steel Curtain" and "Terrible Towels." Miami's "No-Name Defense" and "Killer B's." Minnesota's "Purple People Eaters" and the LA Rams' "Fearsome Foursome." Washington's "Hogs" and "Over-the-Hill Gang." Denver's Orange Crush. The Saints were once "The Ain'ts" (with the fans' brown paper bags). San Diego's Air Coryell. Seattle's "Legion of Boom." The New York Giants' "Big Blue." And perhaps the first and best: Chicago's  "Monsters of the Midway." Predecessors of "Da Bears."
      No greater nickname for a running back than "The Galloping Ghost," Harold "Red" Grange. Few were better, tougher, than "The Tyler Rose," Earl Campbell. Of course, "Juice" ran behind "The Electric Company" for Buffalo; later "Juice" (O.J. Simpson) was known as "Killer."
      Reggie White was "The Minister of Defense" and Elroy Hirsch was "Crazy Legs." Dick "Night Train" Lane was from Fort Worth and Deion "Prime Time" Sanders -- man of many teams and multiple sports -- lives in the Greater Dallas area. And, yes, like Deion, Vincent "Bo" Jackson could play a little football and baseball.  
     Golf: Eldrick Woods is "Tiger." Of course. But he is not the greatest major champion; that is Jack Nicklaus, first known as "Fat Jack" but now better known as "The Golden Bear." But he's not "The King," Arnold Palmer is (that's "Arnie.") And you had to love "Super Mex," Lee Trevino. Another great showman, "Chi Chi" Rodriguez (he's the Juan).
      Tennis: Not well-versed here, but I know the late, great announcer/writer Bud -- yes, another Bud -- Collins had names for everyone. The best: "Superbrat" can only be John McEnroe.
      Soccer: Starts and ends with "Clockwork Orange," the wonderful Dutch teams of the 1970s. 
      Auto racing: "The Intimidator," car No. 3, Dale Earnhardt Sr., who probably was responsible for creating "Wonder Boy," Jeff Gordon.

      Boxing: Who else? The Louisville Lip, Gaseous Cassius, The Greatest. He gave us "The Big Ugly Bear" ("Sonny" Liston, real name Charles), "The Mongoose" (Archie Moore), "The Rabbit" (Floyd Patterson)" and he fought "The Big Cat" (Cleveland Williams) and "The Bleeder" (Chuck Wepner).
      Jack Dempsey was "The Manassa Mauler." Joe Louis was "The Brown Bomber." Two champs named Sugar Ray -- Robinson and Leonard.
      Baseball is the best sport for nicknames because, for one thing, it dates more than 125 years. Pick a team and there is a whole set of nicknames.
      So, of course, let's start with the New York Yankees. "The Bronx Bombers" (and in 1977-78, "the Bronx Zoo"). Legends: "The Sultan of Swat" (George Herman "Babe" Ruth); "The Iron Horse" (Lou Gehrig); "Joltin' Joe" and "The Yankee Clipper" Joe D (Joe DiMaggio); "Poosh 'Em Up Tony" (Lazerri); "The Old Professor" (Casey Stengel); "The Scooter" (Phil Rizzuto); Yogi (Lawrence Peter Berra); Whitey (Edward Ford, "The Chairman of the Board); "The Mick" (Mickey Mantle); "Mo" (Mariano Rivera); "The Captain" or "Jetes" (Derek Jeter).
      We also had Allie Reynolds, the "Superchief" from Oklahoma;  "Moose" (Bill Skowron); one of my favorites "Sparky" (Albert Lyle); "Louisiana Lightning" (Ron Guidry); Jim "Catfish" Hunter; Rich "Goose" Gossage); "Donny Baseball" (Don Mattingly); "The Warrior" (Paul O'Neill); "Coney" (David Cone); "Boomer" (David Wells); "El Duque" (Orlando Hernandez); "Rock" (Tim Raines); "Chicken Man" (Wade Boggs); and these guys who we merely tolerated: "Mr. October" (Reggie Jackson), Roger "Rocket" Clemens, "Straw" (Darryl Strawberry) and "A-Rod" (Alex Rodriguez).
      Team nicknames: "The Hitless Wonders," "The Gashouse Gang," "The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang," (ha, that was in the movies), "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" who became the "Miracle Mets" of 1969, "The Boys of Summer."
      The Gashouse Gang: "Dizzy" (Jay Hanna Dean) and "Daffy" (brother Paul Dean), ("Wild Horse of the Osage" ("Pepper" Martin); "The Fordham Flash" (Frankie Fritsch); Joe "Ducky" Medwick.
      The Boys of Summer, the 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers: Pee Wee (Harold Reese), Duke (Edwin Snider), Campy (Roy Campanella), Newk (Don Newcombe), Oisk (Carl Erskine), Preacher (Roe) ... and Jackie Robinson.
      If you loved the Braves, you loved "Hammerin' Hank" Aaron, Johnnie B. "Dusty" Baker, Rico "Beeg Boy" Carty, "Knucksie" (Phil Niekro), Ruston and Grambling College's Ralph "Gator" Garr, also known as "The Roadrunner." Ruston and Louisiana Tech's George Stone -- "Stoney."
      The 1960s San Francisco Giants: "The Say Hey Kid," arguably the greatest outfielder ever (Willie Mays); "The Baby Bull" (Orlando Cepeda); "The Dominican Dandy" (Juan Marichal); "Stretch" (Willie McCovey); "The Lord" (Gaylord Perry).
      The early 1960s Houston Astros: "The Toy Cannon" (Jimmy Wynn), "The Red Rooster" (Doug Rader), "Little Joe" Morgan, "Turk" Farrell, "Fred Flintstone" (Fred Gladding), "Flea" (Bob Lillis).
      The Miracle Mets: "Tom Terrific" (Tom Seaver) and "The Ryan Express" (Nolan Ryan, later of the Astros and Texas Rangers). And from the team they beat in the 1969 World Series, the Baltimore Orioles: John "Boog" Powell and "The Human Vacuum Cleaner" (Brooks Robinson).
      More names/legends: If you are a baseball fan, you can identify them: "The Flying Dutchman," "Rajah," "The Georgia Peach," "Cool Papa," "Rapid Robert," "The Big Train," "Double X," "Little Poison" and "Big Poison," "Little Louie" and "Nellie," "The Great One," "Pops," "Mr. Cub," "Pudge" (two catchers, Hall of Famers), "Killer," "Big D," "The Big Hurt," "The Big Unit," "Le Grand Orange" (from Louisiana), "The Human Rain Delay," and "Mr. Baseball" (a funny man/actor/announcer).
      A legend in infamy: "Marvelous Marv" Throneberry.
      Suspended-from-the Hall of Fame: "Charlie Hustle" (Pete Rose) and "Shoeless Joe" Jackson.
      The best of our friends, the Red Sox: Yaz, "Big Papi" (David Ortiz), "The Little Professor" (Dom DiMaggio) and the greatest hitter who ever lived: "The Splendid Splinter," "The Thumper," "Terrible Ted" -- Mr. Ted Williams. 
"Stan The Man Unusual" -- Don Stanhouse
      Later Cardinals: Enos "Country" Slaughter; "The Wizard of Oz" (Ozzie Smith); Bob "Hoot" Gibson, and the greatest of them, a very nice guy: Stan "The Man" Musial.
      Which leads to my favorite baseball nickname: A wild, weird 1970s Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher -- Don Stanhouse, "Stan The Man Unusual."
      And another favorite: "A Dandy Named Sandy," Koufax.
      Early in my career, I came up with two nicknames that stuck: "Quick Six" for Charles McDaniel, a breakaway running back at Springhill (La.) High School and then Louisiana Tech and "The Wrecking Crew" for a 1974 Fair Park High defense that carried the team to a state-championship game. Earlier, Woodlawn's defense for the 1968 state championship team was "The Big Red."
      We have a group of friends who -- back to how we started this -- loved wrestling, and were particularly impressed with how clueless the omnipresent referee, Jerry Usher, always seemed. So we took to calling each other "Jerry" and still do.
       One of those friends (the very funny David) left us a couple of years ago, and he had a variety of nicknames: "Professor Toro Tanaka" (as he was introduced to always sparse crowds at old SPAR Stadium in Shreveport), "Sweet Daddy Seiki," "Sky Lo Lo," "Stu" ... and "Jerry." 
       Finally, a personal nickname that some high school friends might -- or might not -- remember: "The Jewish Leprechaun."
       Almost as good as "Snackbar."  

Friday, July 14, 2017

The perspective on loss and losing

      It took the death of a young woman to again shake me to reality and consider what is really important.
      Athletics -- especially baseball this time of year -- isn't it.
      Life is, how we live each day, how we count our blessings. And for us, our kids and grandkids are our greatest blessings.
      I did not know Christina, but I know her father, Gary. He was one of those (many) good kids from long ago, one of those kids -- with year-younger brother Jerry -- who took part in our games in the neighborhood and on the school grounds.
      They lived closeby. We knew Gary and Jerry's mother and father, and liked them, and after they split up, we liked the mother's new guy, Pete.
      So on July 8 -- Saturday of last week -- the first thing I saw on Facebook that morning was a photo of Gary and his daughter, with this post:
      "This is me with my child Christina, a child that I wanted and waited for and loved with all my heart. A child that I had to say goodbye to July 6th.
      "The part of me that wanted to keep her with me was Dad, the part of me that knew I had to let her go because of the cancer and pain was Father. So I cried deeply twice, once for me and once for her."
     Christina was 33, the mother of a beautiful daughter, Piper.
      I loved the name of the place where Christina died, as was included on the memorial page dedicated to her: Apple Valley, California.
      Feel for my old friend (but not as old as me). Feel for all my friends who have lost their own children.
      We experience death so often now, increasingly so it seems the older we get. It is tough enough to lose parents, parents-in-law, spouses, siblings, our friends from way back and more current ones, co-workers. And I empathize, too, with my friends who have lost their parents in recent years.
      All of it hurts some. But to lose a child ... oh, gosh. I think that's as tough as it gets.
      Could not get Christina -- and Gary -- off my mind this past week. So I wanted to write, but needed Gary's OK before I did so.
      And it made me think back to a list of losses of young people, and the parents I have known for so long and include some really meaningful friends.
      Jubilee and David (both teenagers), Lydia, Jason, our precious Amy and Jimmy -- the last three the same age range as our son Jason. Back to the late 1960s and our military guys in Vietnam -- Glenn, Trey, Harold, Eddie. And on a personal note, the baby (Melissa) my wife-to-be never knew.
       We can't forget.

       And the causes: gunshot accidents, murder, cancer, death in childbirth, complications from surgery, war explosions, an umbilical cord gone wrong.
       Tragic, all of them.
       Now for perspective, I turn to my world of athletics -- and journalism.
       When I read or hear of someone describing a team or an individual's loss as "heartbreaking," that's terrifically overblown. When it's someone "living and dying" with a team, that is ridiculous.
       If I ever wrote "heartbreaking" to describe a loss -- I tried not to -- I apologize.
       More perspective: My baseball team -- "the premier franchise in American sports" as I like to call it, irritating the "haters" -- has been awful the past month. It is discouraging, it is aggravating, it is -- to be truthful -- about what I expected the season to be ... until the team's good play the first two months teased us.
       I don't watch on TV or computer much -- less stressful that way. But I follow the progress of the games.
       "I wish it wasn't that important to you," my wife tells me. I remind her this team has been important to me for 62 years; all my teams are important to me.
       So with each loss -- and there have been 18 in a month's time -- I might sulk or rant ... but only for a minute, or five minutes. That's it. Then I go on to walk, read, write, talk with Bea, or -- yes -- even help with the chores around here.
        It's not that important anymore. I don't grieve these type losses. They're not heartbreaking.
        But Christina, and the others ... yes.
        Which brings me back to Facebook. In recent weeks, Tim Madigan -- in my opinion, the best writer/reporter among a lot of talented ones on news side at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in our time there -- has been posting about a new book he co-wrote with Dr. Patrick O'Malley: Getting Grief Right.
        "I think it could be the most impactful book I've ever written," Tim told a writer for a story in the Crookston (Minn.) Times, his hometown newspaper. And among Tim's several books are a couple on his friend Fred Rogers -- Mr. Rogers. Hey, neighbor.

        Tim explains, in part, the purpose for the book.
        "One big reason is the universal reality of grief," he said in the story. "If we live, we will lose someone. But for those who grieve, the world can still be a very lonely, difficult place."    
        My wife said to me: "This is a book we need to read."
        My friend Gary, in a note to me Thursday, told of seeing his Christina through her cremation service.

        "It was difficult and I had to 'cowboy up' to get through it," Gary wrote me, "but she deserved to know I was there at the end. Everyone is different, but for me there was not a person on earth who could have made me feel better. I did not want to have to go through a service and have to smile and console people I hardly knew when I wanted to put my fist through a wall.
        "My family was gracious enough to understand that and gave me space, just letting me know that when ready or needed they would be there."
        Here is how Gary ended his Facebook note on July 8:
        "For my daughter and for me ... do something nice for someone else today in her memory."
        He told me Thursday: "... A few responded that they did, and mentioned her during their good deed. That was what I needed to hear.

        "So for those who want to help recover from the loss of a loved one, do something and let them know what you did no matter how small, other than giving lip service. Like a pebble in the water seeing the ring of good deeds in your child's name is the only thing that made me feel better."
         We grieve about the people we've lost. We count our blessings. Do something nice for someone today.
Christina's memorial page:

Story on Tim Madigan and Dr. Patrick O'Malley's book:

Friday, June 16, 2017

Hitting 70, and not speeding

     No problem turning 70 today. It happens to most people my age.
     Grateful for another birthday. They are all special, but the ones that end in zero are more meaningful, I suppose.
June 2017: The greatest joys of life today for Bea and me:
 Josie (9 1/2), Jacob (8), Kaden (6) and Eli (2 1/2).
     The feeling most prevalent today is gratitude. Mostly for my family -- Beatrice, the kids, the grandkids, my sister and her family. But also for my friends -- many as old or older than I am -- and for the journey, the road I've traveled. 
     It is a long way from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, to Fort Worth, Texas, USA. It has been quite a ride.
     I was thinking about the "zero" birthdays. Here is a review:
      At 10 (1957), we had been in the U.S. for 17 months, I was headed for fifth grade, and we were 18 days from moving to the first home my parents ever owned -- in the Sunset Acres neighborhood in Shreveport.
At 20, student assistant in sports
information at Louisiana Tech.
      At 20 (1967), I was a junior-to-be at Louisiana Tech University, working summers for The Shreveport Times -- covering American Legion baseball and some nights helping on the sports desk, editing copy and writing headlines. We were in our last year in Sunset Acres; my parents soon moved to South Broadmoor.
       • At 30 (1977), Bea and I had been married four months and 10 days; I was "Daddy Nito" to 3-year-old Jason, and I was the sports information director at Centenary College, publicity contact for the Shreveport Captains' baseball team, and a parttimer for the Shreveport Journal sports department.
      At 40 (1987), I was near the end of 5 1/2 really good years as executive sports editor for the Shreveport Journal, a fun, productive time professionally, a struggle personally (that's all you need to know). Bea and my old friend Casey -- we went through school together from Sunset Acres through Tech; he will be 70 late next month -- arranged to have a sign put up in front of the Chateau Hotel announcing that I was 40.
     At 50 (1997), I was in my second year on the Knoxville News-Sentinel sports staff after six-plus years in Jacksonville and Orange Park, Fla. We loved the Knoxville years, and Rachel found a university (Tennessee), a home, and a husband and his family there.
    At 60 (2007), I was halfway through an 11-year stint in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports department -- the most fulfilling, rewarding job I had (and it was my last job). We were four months from becoming grandparents for the first  time.
     At 70 (2017), retired for 4 1/2 years and happy to be so. Still a writer (when I feel like it) -- a book writer, even --  and, as always, a deeply devoted sports fan. But I'm not as avid a sports fan as I was for most of my life and certainly much more cynical.
     Back to gratitude. It is the fifth year of my daily gratitude journal, which is -- believe me -- a daily exercise in positivity. (It's true, no matter what is going on in our country and the world.)
     Gratitude, too, for relatively good health. There are a few extra pounds, but only a few, and I do know now what a high triglycerides count means (but I had to look up how to spell triglycerides).
     The doctor and I agreed that I need to eat more wisely -- stop snacking after the early evening meal -- and keep exercising.
     There is enough energy for daily walks and regular yoga/stretching classes at the downtown Y, and there is still motivation for writing and researching (working on a couple of sports-related projects now).
     Don't much like driving any more, so the out-of-town trips are fewer and more taxing. But we find plenty to do in town. Just this week: grocery shopping (four stores), a bookstore stop, a jazz concert, a museum visit, a financial consultation, and birthday meal celebrations.
Our grown-up kids: Jason and Rachel
     That's plural celebrations because Rachel brought the two Smith grandchildren here from Tennessee for a four-day stay last week and Jason brought the two Key boys from Prosper -- they are an hour-and-a-half from us -- and so it was multiple meals.
     For me -- and I know Bea agrees -- the greatest joy these days is those grandchildren. We don't see enough of them, although FaceTime helps. They are such a delight, and I know many of our old friends have the same feeling about their families.    
     We are proud of the lives our kids have built, and we have such hopes for those grandchildren.
     One of those hopes is that we are around to see what becomes of them. Reality is that we will be fortunate to have one more birthday ending in a zero. Having two more, reaching 90, is not a likely possibility (my parents went to 89 and 88).
     For now, it is one lovely day at a time. We'll see where we are at 71.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Finally, the (Alexander) Hamilton trifecta

      At last, I have completed the Hamilton trifecta. It's an early birthday present to myself.
      It only took four-plus months for me to read the book Hamilton, a mere 738 pages (small print). Quite a story, quite an effort.
      But I can now say that I won the duel.
      Bad joke. If you know the story -- and it's hard to imagine that you don't -- you know this does not have a happy ending. They all die in the end, but the hero most tragically of all.
      He did, when it counted most, throw away his (final) shot. But in more general terms, Alexander Hamilton took his shots at fame -- and succeeded like perhaps only one other  Founding Father did. And Hamilton, as we know, was George Washington's right-hand man (and vice versa).
      (It must be nice, it must be nice, to have Washington on your side.)
      Another bad joke: This book is a good enough read someone should write a play about it.
      Unless you have been woefully ignorant, you know Hamilton the play -- brilliantly written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by Ron Chernow's book -- dominated the entertainment world for months. It still is, I'm guessing, the toughest (and most expensive) ticket on Broadway.
      It was almost a year ago -- Sunday, June 12 -- that to no one's surprise, Hamilton won 11 Tony Awards (from 16 nominations). Which proved that hip hop, applied to history and Broadway, does work.
      It was a wonderful Tony Awards show (how many times, really, do so many people pay attention to the Tonys?), but also a sad day. During the CBS-TV show, the performers paid proper homage to the horrible nightclub shootings early that day in Orlando when 49 people were killed.
      (By the way, people, just to repeat and rub in trite tweets, Hamilton is not highly overrated.) 
      We -- wife, daughter and me -- have been Hamiltonians almost from the start. Of course, I had to be converted.
      Bea caught on first, having seen Lin-Manuel Miranda's performance at the White House when, still in the process of writing the music for the play, he introduced the opening number: "How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean ... "

     She told Rachel about it, Rachel loved it and soon found the trifecta -- Hamilton (Chernow's book), Hamilton the Revolution (the book about the play), and Hamilton an American Musican (the CD by the original Broadway cast) -- arrived at our place, Rachel's birthday gift to Bea a year ago.
      We have listened to that CD maybe, oh, 150 times. I have been hearing lines from it, and the play, almost daily for more than a year. And it actually turned me into a Hamilton fan. Hip hop hooray.
      Even Eli, our 2 1/2-year-old grandson, last week was singing to his mother, "I am not throwing away my shot."
      Bea read both books, and said I might like them.
      Reading is probably what I like doing best these days,  although walking and following baseball (if one particular team is faring well) are close. Because I am usually busy with one or two or three books and spending time reading on the computer (seldom see actual printed newspapers now), the Hamilton books were on the "future" list for half a year.     
      Finally started the book about the play in December and finished in early January. It was very good, with Miranda's explanation of how the play and the music developed, the lyrics for all the songs, and stories of the cast members and how the cast was selected. That was 285 pages, with lots of full-color photos.
       We -- again, Rachel, Bea and me -- all learned to love the cast members. Please don't make too much of this, but "obsessed" might be the proper word here. I am afraid that Bea would trade me for Lin-Manuel Miranda, although she assured me she wouldn't.
      (An OCD part of me is that I keep a list of the books I read. So, between printed books and audio books, it was 34 a year ago and 20 this year before Hamilton.)
      Then it was on to the big book. It was, obviously, no start-to-finish project. I started and stopped repeatedly, mixing in my daily reading and other books. And because Chernow has so much rich detail and prolonged background material, it was not an easy or quick read.
      But it was riveting. I did not skip parts or read past them. American history is one of my favorite subjects -- maybe next to baseball history -- and always has been.
      We also had done the audio version of Chernow's book on George Washington, so we knew how detailed he wrote and we knew some of the strong connection between the first President and Mr. Hamilton.
      I was reminded many times, and kept telling Bea, that politics then, as the Revolutionary War was fought and won and the United States of America came into being, was as dirty as it is now. Truly -- as is often said -- the more things change, the more they stay the same.

      Many of those men -- Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, James Madison, James Monroe -- were fierce and demeaning and arrogant. Just about all of them despised Hamilton, and he despised them, at least politically and sometimes personally.
       Federalists (Washington, Hamilton, Adams) vs. Republicans (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe) was just like Democrats vs. Republicans. Burr, the most villainous, was an entity by himself -- a Republican courting Federalists because he was interested only in promoting himself.
       A strong central government vs. states rights was an issue then, as it is now.
       Washington was the best statesman, but even he came under strong opposition and criticism, especially as he grew older and more tired in his second term. He always leaned on Hamilton to write his speeches for him, including his famous farewell address.
        Media was just as vicious and divided. Difference now, of course, is that we now have so much more media coverage and -- good or bad -- so much more social media.
       Another slight difference: If you demeaned a person in those days, he could challenge you to a duel. Thus, Hamilton and Burr ... and it was not the first duel challenge for either one.

       Can you imagine duels today? We'd have one every day.
       Anyway, the book makes one appreciate Alexander Hamilton for the brilliant, creative (and almost unsung) Founding Father he was, for the many original things he gave this country (most notably the financial system, the U.S. Military Academy, ect.) and the flawed character that helped lead to his too-early demise. And damned Aaron Burr: the Vice-President who shot our hero to death.
        The opening and closing chapters, though, present the most heroic character: Eliza Schuyler Hamilton, Alexander's loyal wife and preserver of his legend. She lived to 97, almost to the Civil War, and reading about her at the end was, for me, the most emotional and heartwarming part of the book.
        It only took about 730 pages and five months to get there. Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?
        If you have lots of time, and you love early American history, I recommend you read the book. If not, know that I did and enjoyed it, and I am ready to continue on to the rest of my life.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Celeste was the sweetest in our 'sweet spot'

      The day before Celeste Williams passed from this earth, I talked to my forever coach/philosopher/friend, and he wistfully remembered one of the "sweet spots" in our lives.
      "There are only a few times in life when we find that sweet spot," he said. "When you do, you need to cherish it."
      For me, the real sweet spot -- always -- is Bea and our kids, Jason and Rachel, and their families.
      Coach was referencing work situations, thinking back to the 1960s and Woodlawn High School, and all of us who were there will agree those were sweet days to cherish.
      That was a long time ago and, as I went into the work world -- mostly in the world of newspapers -- there were vestiges of sweet spots in several places.
      But the sweetest spot for me was the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, home for the last 10 years of a sportswriting career. It not only gave me a home, it gave me a work family. (The closest before that was the Shreveport Journal.)
      And, really, I mostly have Celeste Williams to thank for it. She was the sweetest part.
      In short, she -- and some others -- saved my career.
      By doing that, she also saved us from financial hardship. Who knows what would have happened late in 2002 if I had not been at the Star-Telegram?
       She was the head of our "family," our sports department, the managing editor for sports (and later features). She had the job for 19 years ... until this week.
      Cancer took her from us Monday night at age 56. Only a few people knew what she dealt with, health-wise, the past year and a half; she was a private person, until the end never one to call attention to herself.
         She was one of the kindest, unselfish, most charitable, well-rounded, interesting people I've known. All class.
         She was a fighter for her department, for her people. She told management -- and people complaining about a newspaper story or item -- how it was. She was honest, but she was fair and so darned compassionate.
         I am writing this for those who never had the privilege of knowing Celeste and, better yet, working with her.
         Because those of us who did, at the Star-Telegram and far beyond (she was well-traveled until this became her home), already know this.
          She was so beloved and respected. We were loyal because she was loyal. We had a department full of high achievers and standards, just as Celeste wanted.
         Facebook has been filled with tributes to her, beginning shortly after the news became public early Tuesday morning. Believe me, literally hundreds of people feel the same gratitude for her that Bea and I do.
         The obituary, by Jeff Caplan in the Star-Telegram, was as beautiful, as touching, as any obit I've read. The link is at the bottom of this piece. You should read it.
         In my decade at the paper, we might have had as many as 150 people working in sports in some role (I'm not kidding; when I arrived in December 2001, we were "fat" in personnel).
         The great majority of those people wrote posts, or notes, on Facebook to explain how Celeste impacted their careers and their lives. Many were very well-written; these were coming from talented journalists, after all.
         That talent, put together in large part by Celeste, produced a sports section that for at least seven years was among the best in the country. Damn right I'm bragging.
         It was a tough week. When I first saw the news on Facebook early Tuesday, we were getting ready to go to the downtown YMCA for a yoga class. And we went ... after I got through sobbing.
         Cannot tell you how many times I teared up reading Facebook, or choked up talking to friends on the phone.
         But with those tears came smiles, seeing the many beautiful photos of Celeste posted all week, always with her own dazzling smile.  
         The best moment -- more tears -- might have been Wednesday night when the Texas Rangers had a pregame moment of silence in Celeste's memory, and posted her photo -- with longtime partner David Martindale -- on the video boards.
          Gosh, that was wonderful.
          Late in 2001, I was job-hunting (again), ready to leave Knoxville. I had a Star-Telegram connection, from the Shreveport Journal days, and maybe that helped. 
          Celeste was the latest in a long line to come to my rescue, and I had no history with her.
          We traded e-mails, and she didn't have any fulltime openings but she invited me to come for a visit -- and a tryout -- if I was in the area.
          I did have another job opportunity at the small paper in Marshall, Texas, and a chance for a golf-magazine job in Orlando. So I went to Shreveport to visit the folks and interviewed in Marshall, where I was offered a job (not in sports).
          Then I came to Fort Worth, met Celeste and the assistant sports editors, and on the night of Oct. 5, 2001, my "tryout" became memorable.
         It was the night before the Texas-Oklahoma football game -- the Red River Rivalry -- and the night that Barry Bonds hit his 71st home run of the 2001 baseball season, breaking Mark McGwire's single-season record. The Star-Telegram sports department had planned a special section if that happened ... and, in the first inning, the plan went into effect.
         Wow. What a massive effort that night. I'd never seen such an operation -- so many people in one department (copy editors, designers, writers), so many sports pages (with zoned high school pages and the Bonds special section, it must have been 35 pages), so many stories to work.
         Vince Langford, one of the very best copy editors I worked with in 45 years and eventually one of my best friends at the S-T, was assigning the stories. Because I work fairly fast, he kept piling them on. Think I worked 16 stories that shift.
         (Because it was so much work, people in the department thought it would scare me away. Michele Machado laughingly has told me they agreed "he won't be back." They did not know how badly I needed -- and wanted -- the job.)
         I must have made a good impression because Celeste soon offered me a chance to come to Fort Worth on a "contract" basis (40 hours a week, good pay, but no benefits).
         I told Bea "this is a great place, a helluva department" and this was my choice, not Marshall. She had trepidation about the pace of the Metroplex, but Jason was living and working in Dallas, and we would be close enough to drive over and help out my parents, who were getting older.
         When I started -- Dec. 21 -- Celeste promised me that "as soon as we get a fulltime opening, we'll give you the job." It took only two weeks.
         It turned out to be crucial, especially the benefits.  Because a few months later, Bea -- who had been having bouts of severe illness -- was found to have colon cancer. After an operation and chemo, she -- thank God -- made it through. There was a recurrence four years later, but pinpoint radiation worked perfectly, and here she is 15 years later.
         What if we had not had health insurance?
         So that was one Celeste favor, among many. That April, 2002, we had tickets to go to the Masters. Many bosses would have said, no you can't do that because you are new here. Not Celeste; she was fine with it. Just as she told me to take all the time I needed after my parents' deaths.
         And here is a typical Celeste story. She was an avid reader -- one of her many, many interests. She would give Bea and me books (she oversaw the paper's book page and reviews) and she always wanted to know about our book-club meetings. Once she came to the apartments to join in. This will surprise no one at the S-T: She brought food and treats to share with the group.
        I was fortunate to be part of some very good sports staff with supportive management at The Honolulu Advertiser in 1980-81, Shreveport Journal in 1982-87, and Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville) in 1988-93. Much fun and good people -- good friends -- in each place, and much to like, too, at the Knoxville News Sentinel (1995-2001).
        All sweet spots to an extent, but not like here in Fort Worth. This was a big-league operation -- more resources, more people -- and Celeste was a big-league sports editor and leader.

        I had as many friends here at this paper as any place I've been, except maybe Woodlawn High. The work was challenging, but so much fun. And this was home, the right place to finish a career.
        My role for a decade was sports copy editor, plus on college football Saturdays and NFL Sundays, I was a writer, compiler of the national roundups. So I had a few bylines.
        Celeste at times asked my opinion about stories and writers. She had a mostly open door, so we'd visit briefly before and during many shifts. Had to go in for my candy fix -- one Celeste trademark was she kept a large stash of candy in her office, and many indulged. Too many miniature Mr. Goodbars and Tootsie Roll Pops for me.
        As she did with a lot of people, we had gentle conversations about the paper and life.
        She could be fierce, though, (profane even) about complaining callers, especially people from area college or pro teams. She and I talked politics a lot; again, she could be outspoken, but we Demos agreed on almost everything. She would be appalled these days.
        She must have known how intense a worker I could be, how loud and -- uh -- brash, that flying words and objects were a distinct possibility. She, and everyone, knew I also would keep things light and crazy. I don't miss working; I do miss the fun and the laughter.
        I was admonished a few times for my outlandishness. But the only time Celeste scolded me -- mildly -- concerned a college/NFL story. It was no big deal.
        I am so grateful to so many people in that department. But it started with Celeste.

        The good times at the S-T began ending, and the section suffered, when layoffs began in April 2008. Not sure how many sets of layoffs there have been since, but I know that each time Celeste was more upset than the people who were leaving.
        The department of about 125 at one time -- including parttimers -- is down to about 25.
        In recent years, when I made a few visits to the office, Celeste was resigned to the changing business, but still intent on having her staff produce the best it could. She never gave up or gave in.
        I was fortunate that, at age 63, when my layoff time came in May 2011, I didn't mind. I was nearly ready to step aside anyway.
        Still, I asked Celeste about maybe working parttime. She said she could not rehire me until the turn of the year, "but in January, if you want a parttime job, you've got one."
        Because I wanted to cover high school football that fall, I was fortunate that The Dallas Morning News would give me that chance. Then, The Morning News also wanted me to work parttime on the sports desk. Fine. Driving to Dallas 2-3 times a week was ... well, OK.
         Then the Rangers made the World Series and one week I worked six days. 
         The DMN sports section long has been one of the country's best, and the people there are real pros, could not have been nicer to me. But it wasn't "home." And that drive to Dallas ...
          In early January, I called Celeste and she -- again -- fulfilled her promise. I went back to the Star-Telegram for another year of parttime work and, in the fall, high school football coverage. Loved it, and in late December, I'd had enough. That was the end of my career. Sweet.

         Typical of Celeste, she did not want a funeral service. Instead David and her sister are planning a party in the next couple of weeks. Because Celeste loved being host for a party or being part of one.
          A significant number of Star-Telegram people had a gathering in honor of Celeste last Tuesday night at Bobby V's, a restaurant/sports bar in Arlington. I expect the formal party will require a bigger room. 
         Back to the sweets. That healthy -- well, unhealthy -- supply of candy in her office, and my chocolate fetish likely led to that extra five pounds I've had for years (but, hey, it was an extra 25 for a while). Let's blame Celeste.
         Plus, all that pizza and chicken -- and all those birthday cakes -- she had brought in for us on "big event" nights or special-section duty ... or whatever. I don't think those were in the S-T budget; I suspect they were from the personal Celeste budget.
         The deaths of so many friends, it seems, affects us more and more as we get older. This one really hurt.
         It has been so gratifying to see the tremendous response by Celeste's friends, especially the Star-Telegram family. She was our sweet spot.
         As so many have in the past week, I say "thank you" to my boss, but better yet, our dear friend. We were so blessed she was there for us, and we cherish what she gave us.